A lot of people held Kyle Shanahan, Atlanta’s former offensive coordinator and new San Francisco 49ers new head coach, accountable for the Falcons’ late-game collapse against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Rather than running the ball to chew up the play clock, Shanahan decided to dial up passing plays. But Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu doesn't agree with those who placed the blame on his former offensive coordinator.
"He's called plays like that throughout the season all the time. He's been aggressive, we're an aggressive team, so we go out there and we do what we do," Sanu said on NFL Network's Good Morning Football.
When Atlanta blew the huge fourth-quarter lead against New England, many believed it confirmed that Atlanta would never be known as anything other than the biggest chokers in NFL history. Don't say that to Sanu, though.
“I wouldn't say the last quarter of that game is our legacy. We did what we had to do throughout the season to make it to the big stage and we played well. It just so happened it didn't go our way.”
The 27-year-old receiver defended his team, which surrendered a 28-3 lead in an overtime loss against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. When running back Tevin Coleman scored on a 6-yard pass play to give the Falcons a 28-3 lead in the third quarter, Sanu thought Atlanta had the win in the bag.
But then the unthinkable occurred. Down 28-12 in the fourth quarter, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower strip-sacked quarterback Matt Ryan, shifting the momentum to New England. The Patriots went on to score 22 points, force overtime, and eventually win the game by scoring on their first possession of overtime.
"You're thinking 'OK we got this, let's keep doing what we're doing and trust the process.' Just go out there and do what we do. I just felt like momentum shifted and we weren't playing as aggressively as we usually do. It's just unfortunate,” Sanu said.
But there is a reason why Atlanta squandered a perfect opportunity to seal the game in the second half. Sanu placed some of the blame on the halftime show.
Players are used to 15-minute breaks in between each half during the regular and postseason. But the Super Bowl’s halftime lasted almost an hour.
"It definitely (affected us) because usually halftime is only like 15 minutes so when you're not on the field for an hour, it's like going to work out, having a great workout, sitting on the couch for an hour and then trying to work out again," Sanu said.
Losing Super Bowl LI was a tough pill to swallow for Falcons fans, but the players are handling the defeat better than expected. Sanu says, "It's gotten better.”
A lot of factors played into Atlanta’s loss. The Falcons’ decision not to run the ball in the second half and Ryan’s back-breaking fumble are what led to Tom Brady hoisting his fifth Lombardi Trophy. Sanu decided to blame everything else except the one obvious factor: playcalling.
Maybe the Falcons will use that late-game debacle as motivation for next season. For now, though, the defeat probably still lingers in the back of their heads.