Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Falcons lose the most Atlanta game ever

HOUSTON — This wasn't just another in Atlanta's lengthy series of Hard Knocks and Epic Collapses. This was the absolute worst. This was the game that, with 17 minutes and seven seconds remaining, could not be lost. It was.

No team in the Super Bowl's first 50 installments had led by 11 points and not won. The Falcons led by 25 and lost. For three quarters, they played so well on this biggest of stages that these fingers were composing a tone poem to Dan Quinn and his Brotherhood and Kyle Shanahan and his unstoppable offense and Matt Ryan as the architect of this franchise's deliverance. That bit of verse has been shredded, along with a starving city's hopes and dreams.

Officially, the Falcons lost 34-28 on James White's 2-yard touchdown run on the first series of the first overtime of any Super Bowl, but this game was gone when the Patriots guessed right on the post-regulation's coin toss. ("Heads," they called, and so it was.) By then, the Falcons' young and swift defense had seen it legs turn to jelly.

Those defenders had given a brassy account of themselves against the great Tom Brady, sacking him five times and watching Robert Alford take one of his passes 82 yards to put the Falcons ahead 21-0. With the defense going above and beyond anyone's expectations, this team should be flying back to Hartsfield-Jackson with the Lombardi Trophy buckled into first class. Alas, there will be no triumphant return, no parade down Peachtree. There will be only this pejorative question:

How does a team capable of playing that well choke so badly?

I'm sorry. I hate that word. I rarely use it, largely because I don't think it often applies. But how else can we describe this? You're up 25 with barely 17 minutes to go. You've got the NFL's best offense, the NFL's most valuable player. You need one more drive, one crummy field goal, to put this to bed. And the raging offense, as they say in horse racing, spit the bit.

Even after the Patriots bled out a field goal to close within 16, only 9:48 remained. The Falcons handed the ball to Tevin Coleman twice. On third and 1 with 8:31, Shanahan called a pass. Ryan was sacked by Dont'a Hightower and lost the ball. The MVP did the one thing he couldn't do. Soon New England was within eight points and the Falcons had to move. And they did. Until they stopped.

Ryan threw off a play-action to Devonta Freeman, who was alone in the left flat. Two snaps later, the outrageous Julio Jones made the most outrageous catch of his life, which is saying something, to move the ball to the Patriots' 22, easily within Matt Bryant's field-goal range. Had the Falcons run the ball three times and let Bryant swing his leg, they'd be champs.

But no. Ryan dropped to throw. Trey Flowers burst up the middle and shoved center Alex Mack, playing with a broken leg, into Ryan. The sack moved the ball back to the 35. Then Jake Matthews was flagged for holding. The clinching field goal was never attempted. The Falcons punted instead.

The Patriots, who'd been undone in a Super Bowl by David Tyree's helmet catch, conjured up a reasonable facsimile on their tying drive. Brady threw over the middle for Julian Edelman. Alford tipped the ball. Edelman grabbed it inches above the turf. Feeling it slip, he re-grabbed it. Quinn challenged the call, lost the challenge and his final timeout to boot. The Patriots tied the score on White's 1-yard run and Danny Amendola's 2-point conversion at 0:57. The Falcons took the ball with 52 second left and managed but first down.

Mercifully, overtime went fast. The Patriots needed only eight plays. The Falcons' defense had nothing left. Their offense was outgained by 202 yards and ran 46 plays to New England's 93. The offense had two chances to kill the game and whiffed. Ryan lost the ball and took a sack. As glorious as his season and his team's bold run to within sight of a championship were, you cannot paint a smiley face on a year that ends with a lost 25-point lead as the whole world watches.

I'm sorry. I really am. I'm not trying to be unduly negative. I just don't know how anybody who cares about the Falcons can ever square this loss. They were an eyelash from maybe the biggest moment in Atlanta sports history, and they wound up watching Belichick and Brady being handed yet another trophy.

Afterward Quinn sought to talk — yes, again — about his team's Brotherhood, but this loss will put even the strongest bond to the test. Not trying to be melodramatic, but this is the sort of flop that can scar a franchise. The Braves of the '90s never got past the Jim Leyritz home run, and that was in a non-elimination World Series game. This was the game with Roman Numerals and Lady Gaga. This was the Falcons' game, and they blew it. They blew the most Atlanta game ever.

Comments
Barry Sanders turns 50: Watch some of his 2,195 yards vs. Bucs

Barry Sanders turns 50: Watch some of his 2,195 yards vs. Bucs

Lions legend Barry Sanders turned 50 on Monday, and as a tribute, the NFL posted a 10-minute highlight video of the Hall of Famer's top 50 runs. As any older Bucs fans can attest, many of them came at the expense of Tampa Bay's defense, seen chasing ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Jimbo Fisher discusses Florida State, Jameis Winston

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Jimbo Fisher discusses Florida State, Jameis Winston

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher was front and center Monday at SEC media days and spoke about leaving Florida State and why Jameis Winston will have no problem moving on from his suspension.Plus, Blake Snell might be the third AL pitcher ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Bucs running back Ronald Jones eager to prove himself as rookie

Bucs running back Ronald Jones eager to prove himself as rookie

Bucs rookies report to training camp Monday, in less than a week, but running back Ronald Jones has offered fun insights into his preparation with a 10-minute video interview with his hometown paper back in Texas, the McKinney Courier-Gazette."I defi...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Jimbo Fisher: ‘I love Jameis…unfortunately he made some bad decisions’

Jimbo Fisher: ‘I love Jameis…unfortunately he made some bad decisions’

ATLANTA — Jimbo Fisher defended every step of the way at Jameis Winston at Florida State, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he continues to back his former quarterback, even though both have moved on.Fisher, now the coach at Texas A&M, sa...
Published: 07/16/18
What DeSean Jackson needs to break a Jerry Rice NFL record

What DeSean Jackson needs to break a Jerry Rice NFL record

We're close enough to the 2018 NFL season that we can start talking about records that could be broken in the normal course of the Bucs' season ahead.DeSean Jackson has a chance to break one of Jerry Rice's career NFL records. No, not the 197 career ...
Published: 07/16/18
Tony Dungy on Jameis Winston: ‘He knows the right things to do’

Tony Dungy on Jameis Winston: ‘He knows the right things to do’

Former Bucs coach and current NFL analyst Tony Dungy said Friday that quarterback Jameis Winston's three-game suspension is disappointing, but he still hopes the 24-year-old can learn from his mistakes moving forward."Obviously, it's disappointing, a...
Published: 07/13/18
Mom appreciates ‘surprising’ Winston interaction with kids after workout

Mom appreciates ‘surprising’ Winston interaction with kids after workout

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston continues to be a complicated study in the off-field behavior of pro athletes, doing things that draw criticism and praise, sometimes even in the same hour.Winston drew criticism from some fans today for posting video ...
Published: 07/13/18
Pro Football Focus: The Earth is a cold, dark place and the Buccaneers are really, really bad

Pro Football Focus: The Earth is a cold, dark place and the Buccaneers are really, really bad

So training camp is less than two weeks away, and you're beginning to feel hopeful. Why not the Buccaneers, right?To which Pro Football Focus might respond, "We'll tell you why not."The analysts at the website are not high on the revamped offensive l...
Published: 07/13/18
Flashback: 1979 Bucs defense had ‘Mount Crushmore’

Flashback: 1979 Bucs defense had ‘Mount Crushmore’

As we roll out our own choices for "Mount Rushmore" honors for Tampa Bay sports teams, one of our readers was reminded of a similar treatment for the Bucs defensive line nearly 40 years ago.Sue Avery of Wesley Chapel e-mailed to share a photo  o...
Published: 07/13/18
Here’s our Mount Rushmore of Bucs

Here’s our Mount Rushmore of Bucs

The selection process for a Mount Rushmore of former Bucs players— part of a project from the Times Sports department that includes an overall Mount Rushmore of Tampa Bay athletes — is first incredibly easy, and then exceedingly diff...
Published: 07/13/18