Why even the Patriots can’t keep the Falcons down
Written by Miles McPherson
After a dominant 11-win campaign in 2016, the Atlanta Falcons engineered the largest Super Bowl collapse in history, turning a 28-3 third quarter lead into a 34-28 overtime loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
After dominating the first half with their offense, the Falcons managed only one third down conversion and zero points in the second half.
To be fair, New England had an equal hand in the Falcons’ catastrophic unraveling, playing unbelievably well under the charge of Head Coach Bill Belichick.
The ageless Tom Brady engineered five scoring drives, including four touchdowns (three by James White), two two-point conversion attempts, and one field goal. The defense did its part too, holding the Falcons scoreless, and forcing a crucial turnover on a sack/fumble by middle linebacker Donta Hightower. When all was said and done, the Falcons exited NRG Stadium in Houston with an emotional, shocking loss.
Defeat is always hard to deal with, but it tastes much more bitter when your palate anticipated the sweet flavor of victory. After such a heartbreaker, none of us would’ve blamed them for tossing last year’s program out the window, and trying something totally new, putting some distance between themselves and the painful past.
“…sometimes the best thing to do is stay the course.”
After the game, however, players and coaches alike shared a much more calm sentiment: We got outplayed, but we have a winning system. Matt Ryan said, “I thought we had the right mindset, I thought we played the right way, I thought we gave incredible effort out there, we just fell a little bit short.” Receiver Julio Jones added, “I’m not disappointed in, you know, how we played or anything, I feel like we went out there and gave it our all. I mean, they were just the better team today.” Their response to the loss was as praiseworthy—they took responsibility, overcame their mistakes, and objectively evaluated their performance for its good and bad.
In accordance with that sentiment, the team remained mostly intact over the offseason, save for 37-year old defensive end Dwight Freeney, fullback Patrick DiMarco, and Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan who accepted a Head Coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers. Other than those guys, Head Coach Dan Quinn, and most of the offensive and defensive starters were all retained, including running back Devonta Freeman, who was signed to a new 5-year contract in the offseason.
So, in spite of ending up on the losing end of the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, the Falcons entered 2017 with (basically) the same pieces and the same program as last year and, through two weeks of the NFL season, consistency has shown itself to be a winning program for Atlanta, who holds a 3-0 record after defeating the Chicago Bears 23-17, the Green Bay Packers 34-23, and the Detroit Lions 30-26 in weeks one, two, and three, respectively.
In a society like ours that is so in-the-moment, it’s easy to become overly pragmatic—which I believe is a mistake. We think that, after not getting the outcome we wanted, we need to overhaul and change everything. We lose faith, and lose heart, and give up. But sometimes the right thing to do is stay the course. If people understood that, I think we’d see a lot less inconsistency. College students wouldn’t change their major as often, Christians wouldn’t church-hop as much, and marriages wouldn’t end in divorce so often.
Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Sometimes life is hard on us. When we encounter defeat, loss, and trials we can feel pressured to give up the disciplines, relationships, and even the work that God has entrusted to us. But Paul’s admonishment to the church in Galatia, which is particularly relevant to 21st century Americans, is to keep going. Don’t give up on the good things God has given you and called you to. Stick with them! Persevere, and obey God consistently—in the good times and the bad times. And, if you do, in the end, you will reap a blessing of heavenly proportions if you do not lose heart.