It will go down as one of the greatest gag jobs in sports history.
The offense that scored a whopping 540 regular season points couldn’t even muster a critical first down late in the game after the Patriots came roaring back.
It was a crushing loss and it may very well affect the team’s psyche for a long, long time.
For 2017 the offense will remain largely intact in terms of personnel.
Quarterback Matt Ryan put up record numbers in 2016, throwing for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions on the way to winning the NFL MVP award. Unfortunately for Ryan, his ability to avoid killer turnovers ended in Houston when he coughed up the ball and allowed the Patriots to start their historic comeback.
Ryan should still throw the ball all over the field this season to an excellent receiving corps led by All-Pro Julio Jones whose monster catch late in the Super Bowl was wasted by idiotic play calling by now-departed offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
The key is how badly did the Super Bowl affect Ryan’s head but physically he should once again put up good numbers.
The Falcons boast one of the best running back tandems in the NFL.
Devonta Freeman has emerged as the dominant back and led the team in rushing with 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. Speedy Tevin Coleman is the other half and is a pass-catching threat out of the backfield who could go all the way every time he has the ball in his hands.
At receiver is the incredible Julio Jones who despite an injury-plagued season still managed to post great numbers with 83 catches, 1,409 yards and six touchdowns. His incredible sideline catch late in the fourth quarter in the Super Bowl should have allowed Atlanta to seal the deal but Ryan and the offence blew it.
The rest of the receiving corps is dangerous but ultimately complimentary to Jones. The Falcons have never had a serious threat at tight end since the retirement of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Many critics are quick to blame Atlanta’s defense for the debacle in Houston but the unit played out of their heads for three and a half quarters against New England’s potent offense and just ran out of gas.
Despite underwhelming overall numbers, the defense improved considerably as the season progressed.
Atlanta boasts a squadron of speedy pass-rushers in linebackers Vic Beasley, Deion Jones and lineman Grady Jarrett. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn resurrected his career and sacked Tom Brady three times in the Super Bowl. The team added former Kansas City Chiefs monster Dontari Poe in free agency. The secondary is adequate but unspectacular.
But once again, how the unit responds to the crushing psychological trauma of the Super Bowl will play into their performance. They will have a chance to exorcise the demons in a prime-time rematch with the Patriots on October 29 in Foxborough.
The Falcons are going to have enough of a battle staying atop a division that may be the best in the NFL – at least offensively – and will need to duel with rock-slinging quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton. The latter two are hungry to make their mark and the former is a longtime warrior looking for one last championship before he retires.
Considering their talent, the Falcons are likely to make the playoffs but it may be as a wild card, another Super Bowl is probably a lot to ask for.