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White crushes the Falcons

The 2016 Falcons were really good, and were really, really, really close to winning the Super Bowl. The Falcons had one of the most heartbreaking ends to a season in NFL history: at one point, the Falcons had a 499-in-500 shot of winning it all, and still lost. Can they possibly recover from this?

My first thought, honestly, was no. How could they? This was arguably the biggest gut punch in history: has any team, in any professional sport, at any time, been 99.8% likely to win a championship and then fail to do so?

But then I remembered the 1996 Broncos. Do you remember that team? Woody Paige wrote an article previewing the Broncos/Jaguars playoff matchup that well, you can read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, the Broncos weren’t supposed to be challenged. The Broncos clinched the 1 seed early thanks to a 12-1 record, and were expected to ride to the Super Bowl unchallenged. Instead, a shocking upset left head coach Mike Shannahan saying “This is going to hurt and this is going to hurt for a long time.”

The Broncos, having already lost three Super Bowls with lesser teams, were supposed to finally win it all under John Elway. Instead, they had a heartbreaking loss… and responded by winning the next two Super Bowls.

How about the 2004 Steelers? Pittsburgh had gone 15-1 that year under rookie Ben Roethlisberger, and hosted the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Pittsburgh, thanks to future New England killer Plaxico Burress, dominated the Patriots during the regular season. The Steelers had already lost AFC Championship Games at home to San Diego (’94), Denver (’97), and New England (’01) under Bill Cowher, along with the Super Bowl against the Cowboys. But with the best quarterback of the Cowher era — and Roethlisberger entered the game with a 15-0 career record– things were supposed to be different.

And yet, for the fourth time in 11 years, Pittsburgh lost at home in the AFC Championship Game, a heartbreaking finish to a season. If not then, when could the Cowher Steelers ever win it all?

Well, the next year, in fact.

The ’87 49ers were the best team in the NFL, and arguably the best team of the 49ers dynasty. But that San Francisco team was stunned in the playoffs:

Sitting through the shock at the bay is how San Francisco 49ers fans will remember a certain playoff Saturday, an occasion that was supposed to have been a walk through Candlestick Park on the way to San Diego and the Super Bowl.

Instead, the 49ers will have to live with the final score and the indignity of the season that was theirs for the taking, or so it seemed.

The Minnesota Vikings, league wild cards and everyone else’s discards, pulled off what others deemed impossible. Not only did the Vikings defeat the 49ers, 36-24, before a crowd of 62,547, they defeated them soundly and advanced to the National Football Conference championship game next week.

San Francisco, admittedly, was different than Atlanta, Denver, or Pittsburgh because the 49ers had already won two Super Bowls (although some of the names had changed). Still, this was a heartbreaking loss, and the team responded by winning the next two Super Bowls.

And how about the Tom Landry Cowboys? In ’66, Dallas lost a heartbreaker in the NFL Championship Game to the Packers (Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl I two weeks later). In ’67, Dallas lost another heartbreaker in the NFL Championship Game — aka, the Ice Bowl — to the Packers (Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl II two weeks later). The next year, a 12-2 Cowboys lost in the playoffs to Cleveland. In 1969, an 11-2-1 Cowboys team lost at home in the playoffs to Cleveland. Then, in 1970, Dallas exercised their playoff demons and made it to the Super Bowl.

In that game, the Cowboys led 13-6 entering the 4th quarter, and Baltimore star Johnny Unitas had been knocked out of the game. With 9 minutes to go, Dallas had the ball and a touchdown lead… and then disaster struck: a Craig Morton interception led to a short touchdown, and another Morton interception led to a last second game-winning field goal. If Dallas couldn’t win it all then, when could they?

The next year, as it turns out. Dallas made it all the way back, and then beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. And it’s worth noting that the Cowboys lost in Super Bowl V to the Colts… a team that two years earlier had their own heartbreak to deal with.

Below are 20 of the most heartbreaking ends to a season in the Super Bowl era, as identified by me after about 20 minutes of thought.1 As you can see, most of those teams rebounded from the collapse:

TeamYearRecResultWin %N+1 RecordN+1 Win%N+1 Playoff Result
ATL201611-5Lost up 28-30.688
CAR201515-115-1; Lost in SB0.9386-100.375Missed Playoffs
SEA201412-4Interception at 10.75010-60.625Lost in Div Rd
DEN201213-3Hail Mary + 2OT Loss as 1 seed0.81313-30.813Lost in Super Bowl
IND200914-214-0 start; SB upset0.87510-60.625Lost in WC Rd
ARI20089-7Lost in SB with 73% Win Prob0.56310-60.625Lost in Div Rd
NWE200716-018-0 season; Tyree catch1.00011-50.688Missed Playoffs
SDG200614-214-2; 1 seed; Marlon McCree0.87511-50.688Lost in AFCCG
PIT200415-115-1; Lost at home in AFCCG (again)0.93811-50.688Won Super Bowl
STL200114-2Super Bowl upset0.8757-90.438Missed Playoffs
TEN199913-3Dyson tackle in Super Bowl0.81313-30.813Lost in Div Rd
MIN199815-115-1; missed FG in NFCCG0.93810-60.625Lost in Div Rd
DEN199613-31 seed; Lost to Jags as 12.5 pt fav0.81312-40.750Won Super Bowl
HOU199210-632 point comeback0.62512-40.750Lost in Div Rd
BUF199013-3Norwood miss in SB0.81313-30.813Lost in Super Bowl
CIN198812-4Up late in SB; Montana comeback0.7508-80.500Missed Playoffs
SFO198713-2Lost to Vikings as 11-pt fav0.86710-60.625Won Super Bowl
MIN197012-2Super Bowl upset0.85711-30.786Lost in Div Rd
DAL197010-4Cowboys - SB comeback0.71411-30.786Won Super Bowl
BAL196813-1Super Bowl upset0.9298-5-10.607Missed Playoffs

In general, these teams fared very well. Their win percentage regressed to the mean by about 50%, which is lower than you would typically expect. Just two of those teams — last year’s Panthers and the 2001 Rams, who were torpedoed by quarterback injuries — were below .500 the next season. The ’92 Oilers suffered the worst playoff loss in history (at least, pre-2016), but they responded well: Houston went 12-4 that season, although the Oilers did begin the year 1-4. If you thought the heartbreaking lost to Buffalo caused Houston to collapse and never recover, you just forgot about 1993. The Oilers collapsed to 2-14 in 1994, and moved to Tennessee three years later.

The ’90 Bills would be another good comparison to the ’16 Falcons: an upstart team with a great quarterback and an explosive offense losing in heartbreaking fashion in the Super Bowl. Buffalo, of course, made it back to the Super Bowl in each of the next three years.

And then you have the 2012-2014 Broncos. Denver lost in heartbreaking fashion in 2012, with Joe Flacco hitting Jacoby Jones for a 70-yard touchdown (sorry, Rahim Moore) forcing overtime in the playoffs. Denver eventually lost in double overtime. The next year, the Broncos set the NFL record for points in a season, made it to the Super Bowl, and then were embarrassed on the national stage by the Seahawks. In 2014, the Broncos went 12-4, but Peyton Manning was injured late in the season, and struggled mightily in a playoff loss at home to the Colts. After three years of heartbreak, and with Manning both injured and aging, it appeared Denver’s window had closed. Instead? Denver won the Super Bowl in 2015.

For Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the Falcons, 2016 ended in one of the most painful ways possible. But that doesn’t have to mean much for 2017.

  1. I am sure you can name some more: the 1979 Oilers, 2009 Vikings, 2004 Colts, 1990 49ers, the 2011, 2012, and/or 2013 49ers, the 1982 and 1984 Dolphins, etc. []
  • Good list, though definitely subjective. I’m definitely biased, but I think there needs to be more Packers on this list – particularly these three…

    1) Super Bowl XXXII – Packers were the kings of the NFL for nearly two full years (1996 and 1997 seasons) and were dominant. They were on a 7 game win streak (with a 16.1 avg margin of victory and won every game by 10+ points) and were 11 point favorites to beat Denver. Had they, they would’ve won back-to-back Super Bowls and potentially ‘clinched’ Hall of Fame spots for Mike Holmgren and Leroy Butler. Instead they lose a 31-24 slugfest and never return to the SB with Brett Favre. Denver proved in time that the 11 point spread was ridiculous, but this Packers team lost their shot at immortality.

    2) 2011 Divisional Playoffs – Similar to the 1997 team, the 2011 Packers were a dominating defending champion. They went 15-1, had the second highest scoring team in history to date, and had one of the 5 best quarterback seasons in history by Aaron Rodgers. Then in their first playoff game, they’re blown out at home by a bad 9-7 Giants team. They haven’t been as well positioned to go back to the Super Bowl since. Though they’ve still had heartbreaking losses such as….

    3) 2014 NFC Championship Game – Yes they were underdogs, but they had an equal 12-4 record to the favored Seahawks and Aaron Rodgers had another spectacular MVP season. In the second half of the season, the defense vastly improved and was top ten in both yards and points allowed. They went into Seattle, punched them in the mouth and led the entire game. After intercepting Russell Wilson up 19-7 with 5:13 to play, Pro-Football-Reference had the Packers’ win probability at 99.9%. Yet everyone knows what happened next. The Packers defense and special teams surrenders 4 or 5 surreal disastrous plays and Seattle wins in overtime without Aaron Rodgers ever getting the ball.

    • Good stuff. I think the Giants loss, while brutal, wasn’t really heartbreaking in a way the Falcons loss was. The Seahawks loss was much closer in my totally subjective and random opinion.

      The Broncos one is a good one, too.

    • Mark Growcott

      So many heartbreaking Playoff losses for the Packers, that 2014 NFC Championship Game is near the top. There were so many freakish moments in that game that all went Seattle’s way such as the unlikely 2-Pt Conversion following the forgettable onside kick. What frustrated me watching the game was the Packers seemingly not wanting to return any of their INTs for decent yardage when yardage was available. The final INT could have been returned for at least 10 Yds from what I recall which should have been advantageous late in the game when a FG then would have been most sought after.

      What is also embarrassing is their dreadful record in Playoff OT games where they have lost their last 5 which is a record. If the Packers make the Playoffs in 2017 without reaching the SB, they will tie the 1987-1993 Oilers for the most consecutive Playoff appearances without a SB appearance.

      • Tom

        I agree those two games are killers for the Packers, and yeah, the Seattle game more so. Four plays add up to almost the equivalent of one “win” using WPA:

        Failed onside kick: 0.15
        Lynch 24-yard TD: 0.35
        2-pt conversion: 0.10
        Wilson to Kearse in OT: 0.38

        Give or take a few % due to whatever model you use, you’re looking at around 0.98 WPA. Just ridiculous.

        Yes, the INT return “reluctance” you mention is frustrating, but for me, it will always be McCarthy not going for it on 4th-and-1, twice at the goal line and once on the 22. Seattle was the better team (in opinion and Vegas) and so the Packers HAD to take a few more risks. They were given two gifts in that first half – the Wilson INT and the Baldwin fumble – and they didn’t take advantage of them. I can’t stridently second-guess coaches decisions, because I’m not a coach and I’m not down there on the field, but man, I’d wish he would have gone for it on those plays. Ignoring the butterfly effect, they might have been up by 17 instead of 13 at the end of the 2nd quarter.

        • Richie

          Do you think coaches understand the underdog concept and how they should be more aggressive to steal a win. And if they do, do you think they are able to realize WHEN they are underdogs?

          I feel like maybe they spend so much time telling their players that they can beat anybody that they don’t realize when they are playing better teams.

          • Tom

            Right, that’s a good question. Do they ever even see themselves as “underdogs”…it’s probably very hard to view your team that way if Rodgers is the QB. I think Jeff Fisher with the Rams sometimes felt that way – he’d try trick plays against Seattle, etc. – but other times, he’d take the safe route (4th downs, etc.) against teams he thought were equals (a Buffalo game comes to mind).

            And yeah, maybe it’s their job to tell their players – “you can beat anyone”, etc. Probably not very inspiring to tell your team or maybe the other coaches “Look, we’re not as good as these guys, so we’re going to get a little wild today”

            • In McCarthy’s case, I think he legitimately believed that the Packers were on even footing with the Seahawks in that game. While I think the Seahawks were better (especially since it was in Seattle), I think the gap wasn’t that large, especially how the Packers were playing down the stretch that year. Though, I think that thinking has to change a bit considering Rodgers was playing with a tear in his calf.

              McCarthy though has shown that he as least away when his team is grossly outgunned. In 2010 when they were starting Matt Flynn at the Patriots, he opened that game with an onside kick. He’s had Mason Crosby kick a bunch of onside kicks in games when they’re playing the Saints or Cardinals and such and their defense is getting pulverized. But I agree with the idea that coaches are more blind to their team’s shortcomings. It seems like many of them get so wrapped up in their scheme, that they’re more blind to personnel mismatches. Like I often wonder if they’re in the film room thinking “This game plan is fool proof – all we need is our undrafted rookie cornerback to shut down Julio Jones one on one!”

              • Tom

                Good info, I actually didn’t know he was that “risky”…just remembered that he also tried an onside kick against the Giants in the Divisional round in 2011 when the game was tied 10-10.

      • One thing that bothers me about that Seahawks-Packers game is that everybody references the freak plays at the end of the game that went the Seahawks’ way, but rarely mention the freak plays that went the Packers’ way early in the game to give them the lead.

        Two of the INTs bounced off a receivers hands right to a defender, and the usually sure-handed Doug Baldwin dropped the ball on a kick return after a decent, but pretty common hit. Given the huge field position disadvantage the Seahawks D was playing pretty well against a gimpy Rodgers (that Rodgers couldn’t run very well, might have been the biggest bit of luck for the Seahawks that day). It’s not the case that the Packers were way outplaying the Seahawks until a bunch of weird stuff happened at the end. It was pretty evenly matched, and the Packers got the breaks early and the Seahawks got them late.

        I also agree with Tom that McCarthy was way too risk-averse on fourth down.

        • Tom

          If we ignore the turnovers (let’s just call them all fluky for the sake of argument), I agree that for the first half, the two teams were pretty much even. So if at the end of the half your turnover margin is +2 and you’re an 8.5-point dog at CenturyLink, you’ve been given a huge, glorious gift. The Packers did alright being up by 16, but, as noted, might have been a good idea for McCarthy to take a shot on at least one of those 4th-and-1’s.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Yes, there was something like 5:09 left, when Morgan Burnett intercepts Wilson around the Green Bay 40. He took a few steps, then dropped into the fetal position, as if the game was practically over. The Pack had a 19-7 lead, and a decent return could have resulted in a field goal or more. If anything, the flip in field position would have made Seattle’s comeback more difficult. It was startling to see a defensive back pass up the opportunity like that with so much area open, and the outcome in doubt. Often, it’s the opposite, a DB will try to make something out of nothing after a pick, and is better off ending the play with the ball in his possession.

    • Richie

      That Seattle game was unreal. I hope it doesn’t get forgotten for how unlikely that loss was.

      A comparison between that and the 2016 Super Bowl to determine which was crazier would be interesting. I feel like Seattle probably had more wild plays go their way than new England did.

      • Tom

        Richie, I’ve got WP data for both games (my own homebrew model based on PFF formula, but I look closely at end of half, end of game, field goals, make adjustments, etc.)

        I’ve got Seattle having two HUGE plays in that game:
        Kearse OT TD (+0.38)
        Lynch 24-yard TD (+0.35)

        As far as WP goes, these plays are massive…not Malcolm Butler massive, but very, very big. But are they “wild plays” meaning “fluky”? Or just “good plays by the offense”?

        As far as what we might think of as “wild”, we’ve got these two, which are big:

        Onside kick recover (+0.15). Green Bay recovering probably ends the game.
        2-point conversion (+0.10). Failed conversion might result in Packers victory, hard to say.

        The Patriots actually don’t have any HUGE (let’s say, over 0.20 WPA) plays in the Super Bowl. They just have a large number of “big” plays:

        2-point conversion to tie game (+0.15)
        White TD to win game (+0.13)
        Gostkowski kick to Weems at 11-yard line at end of 4th (+0.13)
        Brady to Edelman on 2nd-13 in OT (+0.12)
        Pass interference call on De’Vondre Campbell in OT (+0.12)

        Some of the plays in that game that we might think of as “wild” that went New England’s way, like Edelman’s big catch, or Atlanta’s “Ryan-sack-then-holding-call” debacle, were great, but not necessarily game changers because they happened in what we would almost call “garbage time”. An interception on the Edelman pass would end the game I think, an incomplete pass only means 2nd-10. The “sack-then-holding” barely registers because Atlanta was *still* up 8, with a WP of 97% when Brady gets the ball on his own 9-yard line.

        Long way of saying, yes, Seattle had more wild plays go their way, at least when we talk about wild plays that have significance. The only wild plays I can think of in the Patriots game are the two mentioned (Edelman, Atlanta debacle) and those plays didn’t really swing the game that much (but obviously they were needed and are a part of the overall march to victory).

    • Nuclear Badger

      I was hoping someone had mentioned the Packers-Seahawks game – still makes me cringe when I think about it.

  • Good article. The “hangover” effect we hear about so often has always struck me similarly to the concept of “momentum”. It is definitely true… provided you ignore the myriad times when it isn’t.

    A few examples from other sports:

    1. The 2003 Red Sox lose to the Yankees in heartbreaking fashion on the Aaron Boone homer. The next year they win the World Series in epic fashion.

    2. The 2013 Spurs lose a “Falcons-esque” chance to clinch the NBA Championship in Game 6 of the finals (they were up five with under 25 seconds left *and* the Heat had just missed a shot). They handily win the championship the next season.

    3. The Warriors from two seasons ago blow a 3-1 lead in the finals to spoil their record-breaking season. Then they win it all last season.

    It’s one of those things where if the losing team loses again next season, people say they never got over the first loss. If they win, people say they were extra motivated by the loss. It’s always backward looking.

    • Agree 100%. “Momentum,” whether season-to-season effects, game-to-game, or within games, is one of the most overrated pseudo-factors in sports. I tend to think of it more in the case of someone being “great” and then failing, however.

      I think of all those Detroit Lions teams of the mid-90s that would start something like 4-6 and we’d hear the “Wayne Fontes’ job is in jeopardy!” talk before going on a six-game winning streak to end the season and make the playoffs at 10-6. Then we’d hear about how unstoppable they were before they lost in the first round of the playoffs.

      More recently, I remember a 2006 playoff game where Steve Smith had 216 receiving yards against the Bears. The analysts the next week were asking “How do you stop Steve Smith?” and one of them literally answered, “You can’t.” That was his analysis. Smith had 33 yards against Seattle that game.

      • Yep, I’m a Seahawks fan, so I remember that Steve Smith game very well. As it turns out, you can stop him if you are to able to focus the D on him almost exclusively, every play, because the other “weapons” on the team are a fourth-string running back and a receiver who caught five passes all year.

        Although, to be fair, even that didn’t *totally* work. Steve Smith still scored on a punt return. Man, he was a badass.

  • Mark Growcott

    I loved the title NFL Films gave that 1996 Denver Playoff loss (“Ambush at Mile High”), most fitting.

    Will never forget the 2006 Chargers having their best season in franchise history (record wise) end in heartbreaking fashion with the Playoff loss to the Patriots. They later unfairly fired Marty Schottenheimer and have never really been the same dominant force since. While they did make the AFC Championship Game the following season, they were not going to upset the Patriots in that game and then 2 years later lose embarrassingly at home to the Jets. Their window of opportunity closed with that Playoff loss to the Patriots.

    • Tom

      That Chargers loss stands out to me as well…Brady to Caldwell on 3rd-and-10, 49 yards…that was a killer.

    • Richie

      I know Marty gets blamed for being too conservative for the playoffs, but he sure is good at getting his teams there. It’s unfortunate when a quality coach loses the power struggle with the GM. Funny how the Chargers have never been as good.

      Of course those Chargers also lost Wade Phillips. I don’t remember, but I assume he was booted with Marty.

      I hope somebody does a profile on Phillips some day. He’s had some success just about everywhere he goes, yet nobody keeps him around. He seems like a good guy. Why can’t he keep a job?

      • Richie

        This is why I don’t fault Cincinnati for keeping Marvin Lewis. They could replace him, but odds are the new guy won’t be as good in the regular season.

        • Tom

          Yeah, I laugh when talking heads rip Lewis…if you think he’s a bad coach due to decisions, etc., fine, but this thing about the playoffs is stupid. Some coaches never even get a sniff of the playoffs, and if they do, they might get it once. You have to keep going to the playoffs, you have to just keep getting there and then take your shot and hope for the best, and Lewis has done that.

      • Mark Growcott

        Both of the Coordinators on the Chargers team in 2006 had left in January 2007 to become Head Coaches, Phillips to Dallas and Cameron to Miami and so this made it easier to then fire Marty and justify a fresh start. Marty would have probably kept his job if he hadn’t lost his Coordinators, crazy!!

        There is a book recently released on Wade Phillips titled “Son of Bum” which is sure to be a great read.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Good points about the other NFL teams with difficult losses in their final games. The point of difference for the Falcons is losing the ultimate game in such embarrassing fashion, and doing so in this age of social media. Unlike some of those past examples, there is no escape for these players today. Nearly everyone is online, and nearly everyone can document meeting a player. And the media itself is different, more instant analysis, more coverage and rumors as well. Never thought I’d see practices covered as though they were regular season games. Instant gratification coverage, combined with the pressure to fill the 24/7 sports news cycle.

    I think Seattle or Green Bay may end up representing the NFC this season.

    • Tom

      Agreed. That game will live on and on and on…and don’t forget the Win Probability stuff being tossed around these days as well. Back in 1992, when the Oilers lost to the Bills in that crazy comeback game, at least the Oilers players didn’t have to hear “You know, at one point you guys had a 99.97345% chance of winning…”

  • I’m sure nothing can compare to the Falcons loss, but what about some devastating season-ending losses that occurred on the last day of the regular season?

    -The 2003 Minnesota Vikings blowing a 17-6 lead with 2 minutes left, ending with the Josh McCown to Nate Poole touchdown heave that cost them the division and eliminated them from the playoffs.

    -The 2004 Buffalo Bills, with a 9-6 record and a top 10 scoring offense and defense losing at home to Pittsburgh’s backups when a win would’ve given them their first playoff appearance in 5 years (and to date, their only this century)

    -The 2013 Bears losing the division to the Packers at home on the Rodgers to Cobb 48 yard Touchdown pass on 4th down with :38 seconds left

    There must be numerous others.

  • Tom

    Really enjoyed this…been thinking about how the Falcons would “respond” this year, and my initial reaction, like yours, was “They won’t recover (and probably will fade out)”. Interesting to see that that “gut” assessment isn’t right, at least not all the time…while this doesn’t show that having a painful loss means you’ll get back to the Super Bowl, maybe it shows that these losses affect us fans more than the players!

  • kevin trammo

    the 1986 Jets, who at one point were 10-1, only to lose their last 5 games, still make the playoffs, up 20-10 at cleveland with 2 minutes left with Cleveland about to have a 3rd and 18 deep in its territory only to get second life because of the infamous roughing the passer penalty on Gastineau.

    • Mark Growcott

      The 1986 Jets who were decimated by injuries in the 2nd half of the season limped into the Playoffs like no team has limped before and they suffered some heavy losses in those final 5 games.

      L @ MIA 3-45
      L vs. LA Rams 3-17
      L @ SF 10-24
      L vs. PIT 24-45
      L @ CIN 21-52

      Amazingly they won their Wildcard game at home against KC.

      The 1986 Jets are the only team to lose their final 5 games of the season and yet still make the Playoffs.

  • Tom

    Here’s one: after the Steelers’ 2004 heartbreak season, they gave the Colts a heartbreak in the 2005 Divisional game. Manning and the Colts were favored by 8.5 at home. With 1:20 left, Steelers up by 3, Bettis fumbles, Colts get to the Pittsburgh 28, Vanderjagt misses the 46-yard FG. While not the kind of “Man we HAD them” game Atlanta had against the Pats (at the moment of Vanderjagt’s kick, I’ve got the Colts with a 39% chance to win the game), it was still a tough one to lose.

    Next year, Colts won the Super Bowl against Chicago.

    • Richie

      Well, Manning is a clutch performer who doesn’t let pervious bad outcomes affect the present.

  • That ’96 Broncos loss was also terrible because it was the last game with the old logo and uniforms.
    My grandmother had been buried with her Bronco flag (And I mean that literally.) in April of 1996, so that season felt to me like it was for her. When they lost, it felt like they let her down. Which was admittedly rather appropriate given their history to that point.

  • Richie

    The idea of a team mentally collapsing due to a bad loss the previous season doesn’t completely make sense to me.

    Is the theory that Matt Ryan is thinking about the Super Bowl on every play and making bad throws because of it? Is Devonta Freeman going to fumble because he’s thinking about the Super Bowl?

    The only part that makes a little sense is it the players are mad at each other for something that happened in the game and then they don’t get along and fight in practice, etc. But I’m not sure if even that is enough to derail a good team.

    I’m sure that any previous collapses have far more to do with injury, aging and personnel changes. And sometimes the team that collapsed may not have been that good to begin with, but had some good fortune that put them in position to collapse.

    • Tom

      I’m with you on this…and yet, the “fan” part of me says the opposite…”they’ll never be the same”, “that will be burned into their minds forever”, etc., etc. But I think you’re right…these dudes love playing football…they get out there and compete, and yeah, Freeman isn’t getting flashbacks of the Super Bowl when he gets the hand off…

      • bullitt27

        I would also add the 1980 Falcons. They were extremely well rounded (except for their pass D) and perhaps the best Falcon team of the 20th century. The Cowboys comeback devastated them. They had the talent to win multiple division titles and get to the Superbowl throughout the early to mid 80’s but underachieved.