The Falcons were in the Super Bowl. They were up 28 – 3 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. But, Tom Brady and his New England Patriots rallied back in the biggest comeback of Super Bowl history to ultimately win 34 – 28 in overtime.
It hurt every Atlanta fan. It hurt to see a team with a chance to win their first championship lose like that. It hurt to see the MVP hang his head in defeat. It hurt to see the narrative of Atlanta sports teams always choking and being unable to win the big game return to major networks. Haven’t we suffered enough?
But, losing the Super Bowl in that devastating fashion doesn’t make the 2016 season a waste like many talking heads and fair weather fans are making it out to be.
Matt Ryan was a First Team All-Pro Quarterback and the Most Valuable Player of the NFL. He played the best season of his career, and put together one of the best post season performances of all time, throwing for 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions while completing over 70 % of his passes.
Julio Jones became one of just six NFL wide receivers to have 300 receiving yards in a single game in Week 4 against the Carolina Panthers, while also being named First Team All-Pro for his tremendous season.
Fans were calling for Matt Ryan’s head on a pike after the woeful 2015 season. Vic Beasley was called a bust after an unimpressive rookie season. “Keke” (Neal) and “Debo” (Jones) were criticized as reaches in the draft as they were considered raw prospects. Matt Bryant was injured for much of 2015 and his age brought many doubts as to if he would even return for 2016.
There was a negative narrative going against almost the entire Falcons team except for Julio Jones. But the Dirty Birds united together and proved them wrong, and Julio still found a way to amaze the world in the process.
The Coaches and Front Office
Kyle Shanahan, son of the legendary and controversial Mike Shanahan, was heavily criticized for the stagnant Falcons offense of 2015. Many fans and even professional sports analysts were wanting Shanahan’s bags packed and shipped far, far away. But he engineered the league’s best offense and one of the highest scoring offenses of all time with 540 points in the regular season. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman became a two headed monster in the backfield. Unheard of wide receivers like Aldrick Robinson and Taylor Gabriel became playmakers capable of taking the top off of opposing defenses. In short, the Falcons offense was an unstoppable machine once it got clicking.
Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons General Manager, faced criticism for poor drafting and the Falcons recent inability to sign big name free agents. However, in the 2016 off season the Falcons signed center Alex Mack and defensive end Dwight Freeney. Mack heavily improved the woes at center from 2015 as he held the offensive line together, and Freeney served as a mentor to the young players like Vic Beasley and contributed greatly on his own as well. These two additions were key factors in the Super Bowl run. Also, the 2016 draft class was one of the best in recent memory. Everyone knows first round pick Keanu Neal instantly came into his own as an enforcer safety in the secondary. Linebackers Jones and Campbell, 2nd and 4th round picks respectively, were thrust into starting and held down the middle very well for their rookie seasons, showing their speed and toughness. Austin Hooper, a 3rd round tight end, also showed his ability after Jacob Tamme went down.
So, yes the season ended on the lowest note possible. Yes, it’s going to hang over our heads until the day we die or until the Falcons finally win a championship and we can forget it. Yes, sports commentators will continue to hound our city for being fair weather and our team for being the polar opposite of clutch.
But, the Falcons proved the world wrong. They showed they have what it takes to compete with the best of the best and that they are not to be overlooked. They showed they are better than what the world and the sports media industry thinks of them. They showed they have grit, toughness, and humility.
The Falcons couldn’t win on the biggest stage, but they got to the biggest stage with the odds stacked against them. That’s something to be proud of, and something to look to in hope for a better ending next season.
No one was expecting this team to accomplish what they did, and this is only the beginning. Rise Up.