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The Eagles reminded us that the Falcons should have beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl last year

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This one brought back a whole bunch of memories for Falcons fans.

As I watched the confetti fall after the Philadelphia EaglesSuper Bowl LII win over the New England Patriots, my mind was on one thing: This should have been the Atlanta Falcons last season.

Come on. Nobody but the Eagles themselves and maybe their immediate families thought a Nick Foles-led team could accomplish what this squad did after losing Carson Wentz to a torn ACL at the tail end of his MVP campaign. They were the underdogs of all underdogs, and they pulled off a hard-fought and well-deserved win. I respect the hell out of all of it.

But the 2016 Falcons? They had last year’s league MVP, Matt Ryan. They had one of the best receivers in the league in Julio Jones and a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Atlanta led the entire NFL in scoring with almost 34 points per game and were second in the league in total offense. Kyle Shanahan was always two steps ahead, picking apart virtually every single defense the Falcons faced.

Last year’s Falcons defense wasn’t quite as good as this season’s, but they were scrappy and opportunistic. They sacked Russell Wilson three times and picked him off twice in Atlanta’s 36-20 divisional win over the Seahawks last year. They ran away with the NFC Championship against the Packers, allowing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to convert just four of 10 third down attempts all day in a 44-21 beatdown.

And even in the Super Bowl, it looked like the Falcons had the Patriots outclassed and outmatched ... until all of a sudden they didn’t. That’s the part Atlanta fans are still struggling to come to terms with.

The Falcons aren’t the only team to drop a close heartbreaker to the Patriots. All five of New England’s Super Bowl wins — over the Falcons, Seahawks, Eagles, Panthers, and Rams — have been decided by six points or fewer.

But the loss to the Eagles was a 41-33 margin. That’s something teams can’t typically pull off against the Patriots. Even New England’s two losses to the Giants in the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era were won by four and three points, respectively.

So what did the Eagles do differently?

If the Falcons defense could have stopped the Patriots on just one of their touchdown drives or successful two-point conversions in the second half, they’d have a Lombardi Trophy. When Philly needed its defense to step up and get it done in the fourth quarter, they sacked Brady, forced a fumble, and recovered it to cut off one of his signature late-game playoff comebacks.

Make no mistake about it: Brady was spectacular. He threw for over 500 yards and three touchdowns with no picks. But when the defense really had to slow him down, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham busted through the Patriots’ blockers to take him down, jarring the ball loose in the process. Derek Barnett recovered.

“Tom Brady’s arm just happened to be there and I swiped,” Graham said after the game. “I was just so thankful to be able to make that play to get us off the field and change the game.”

Atlanta’s defense made plays against Brady and the Pats in Super Bowl LI. They sacked Brady five — FIVE — times, forced a LeGarrette Blount fumble, and Robert Alford ran the one pick Brady threw back 82 yards for a touchdown. But there was one other big difference between the Eagles’ game plan against the Patriots and what the Falcons did last year.

The Eagles balanced being aggressive with playing smart

You can’t beat the Patriots by going completely conservative with a lead. Just ask the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost the AFC Championship to New England by doing exactly that. Doug Pederson apparently gets it.

Pederson kept his foot on the gas. Calling a trick play with a tight end passing to your quarterback on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots’ 1-yard line is basically the definition of aggressive. That’s some real Saints-style, “let’s open the second half of a Super Bowl with an onside kick” level shit.

Taking a risk to extend a 15-12 lead over New England with 1:30 left in the half doesn’t have a ton of downside. The Eagles were either going to extend their lead to 10 points or they were going to give New England the ball on their own 1-yard line, trust the defense, and know there was still an entire half to play.

You have to be willing to take some calculated risks to beat New England. But that doesn’t mean teams can totally abandon situational football entirely, which is what the Falcons did when it counted.

Leading by eight points with under five minutes to play, and having already blown 17 points of that 25-point lead they’d banked, the Falcons found themselves on the Patriots’ 22-yard line. The smart play here is this: You run the dang ball. You have a kicker, Matt Bryant, who hit every single one of his attempts from that range. If he hits three, you’ve got an 11 point lead and a lot more pressure on the Patriots while time is ticking.

What did they do? They ran the dang ball ... on first down. Devonta Freeman lost a yard, but it took 44 seconds off the clock, which was a positive. Then Shanahan called a pass play. Ryan took a sack for a loss of 12 yards, and all of a sudden that field goal isn’t looking like quite as much of a chip shot. On third down, a devastating holding call against left tackle Jake Matthews pushed the Falcons entirely out of field-goal range, and they had to punt.

Why didn’t they run the ball? Shanahan said it was because they were “trying to score.” But they could have scored three and given themselves a much better shot at a win.

The Eagles were in a similar situation, leading 38-33 with just over two minutes remaining. The defense had just forced that fumble on Brady, giving Philly the ball back on the Patriots’ 31-yard line. What did Pederson do? He didn’t get cute. Foles handed the ball off to Blount three times in a row, and Nick Elliott kicked a 46-yarder to give the Eagles the 41-33 lead they carried to the end of the game.

It’s fine to be aggressive. It’s not OK to be aggressive when the risk clearly outweighed the reward given the circumstances.

How do Falcons fans feel about the Eagles’ win?

Dave Choate, the editor-in-chief of SB Nation’s Falcons site, the Falcoholic, said the Patriots’ loss on Sunday may have actually made it harder for him to deal with the Super Bowl LI situation, mainly because he wonders where the hell these Patriots were when the Falcons played them.

Watching the Eagles dispatch the Patriots in the Super Bowl, I guess I should have felt schadenfreude or unbridled delight over the Patriots losing, especially since I live in New England. Mostly, though, I was pissed.

Why did Bill Belichick not call for an over-the-shoulder pass to Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI? Why did he not sit Malcolm Butler for some reason? Why did Matt Patricia not put together a defensive gameplan that could be summed up as beardedly lackluster? Why?

I don’t have an answer to any of those questions, but I hate that I’ll be asking them for the rest of my life. It was nice to see the Patriots lose, but it might have actually made things worse for Falcons fans.

Last year, I watched the Super Bowl at the same place I saw the Eagles beat the Patriots: in SB Nation’s offices in Washington, D.C. I somehow got through the loss, with some moral support from my friend, colleague, and fellow Falcons fan Harry Lyles Jr. Then I drank some boxed wine and went back to my hotel and listened to really terrible, sad breakup music and may have cried a little until I finally fell asleep. It sucked.

This year, well, it wasn’t as bad. I enjoyed seeing the Patriots lose. I felt a little vindicated.

I didn’t necessarily want the Eagles to win. It doesn’t change anything. But I am a little bitter about the fact the Eagles proved the Patriots are beatable, and the Falcons blew their chance to finally bring home a Lombardi Trophy last year.