This is go­ing to hurt … for­ever

Fal­cons head home after blow­ing 25-point lead in Su­per Bowl

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - PAUL NEWBERRY

HOUS­TON — The At­lanta Fal­cons headed home Mon­day, still in a bit of shock after blow­ing a 25-point lead in the Su­per Bowl.

While the fu­ture looks bright for a team with Na­tional Foot­ball League MVP quar­ter­back Matt Ryan and a promis­ing young de­fence, let’s not for­get the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of what hap­pened in Hous­ton. That could take a while to get over.

The Fal­cons were ready to cel­e­brate the first cham­pi­onship in their 51-year his­tory when they built a 28-3 lead on the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots. Alas, Tom Brady led the great­est come­back in Su­per Bowl his­tory — and, re­ally, noth­ing else comes close — to pull out a 3428 over­time vic­tory .

“I was think­ing what any­one would be think­ing — we had the game,” At­lanta re­ceiver Tay­lor Gabriel said after the first over­time game in Su­per Bowl his­tory. “At the same time, it’s Tom Brady. If you give him chances to come back and win the game, he’s go­ing to do that.”

No one seemed to take it harder than run­ning back Devonta Free­man, who fought back tears and could barely speak above a whis­per.

“I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber this game,” he said, “for the rest of my life.”

The Fal­cons flew back to a gloomy city that has only one ma­jor sports cham­pi­onship in 169 com­bined sea­sons for its NFL team, Ma­jor League Baseball’s Braves, the NBA’s Hawks and two now-de­parted NHL teams, the Flames and the Thrash­ers.

In­stead of re­turn­ing to a mas­sive cel­e­bra­tion, the Fal­cons will face an off-sea­son filled with ques­tions about how they let a ti­tle slip away, over­shad­ow­ing a year when so many things went right.

“We have to learn from this,” safety Ri­cardo Allen said. “It’s a tough learn­ing les­son. This is one of the worst learn­ing lessons you can get in this world, but we’re just go­ing to keep build­ing. We have some­thing good go­ing here.”

The most im­me­di­ate is­sue fac­ing the team will be find­ing a new of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor.

Kyle Shana­han is leav­ing to be­come head coach of San Fran­cisco 49ers, and his re­place­ment will take over a unit that led the league in scor­ing, has two of the game’s elite play­ers in Ryan and re­ceiver Julio Jones, and showed enor­mous ver­sa­til­ity with 1,000-yard rusher Free­man and a record 13 play­ers catch­ing touch­down passes.

For coach Dan Quinn, it will be im­por­tant to bring in some­one who meshes well with Ryan and car­ries on the wide zone block­ing scheme that worked so well this sea­son.

As for Shana­han, he moves on to a new job with some emo­tional scars.

“This is the first time I’ve had this feel­ing,” he said. “It’s as tough as it gets. It’s not just me, it’s ev­ery­body in this or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

How­ever, this is a team that likely will make only mi­nor tweaks head­ing into its first sea­son at MercedesBenz Sta­dium , a $1.5 bil­lion, re­tractable-roof fa­cil­ity that re­places the Ge­or­gia Dome.

The Fal­cons were hop­ing to open the new place by hang­ing a cham­pi­onship ban­ner.

In­stead, they’ll be try­ing to for­get a mon­u­men­tal melt­down.

TOM PEN­NING­TON, GETTY IM­AGES

Matt Ryan walks off the field after los­ing to the New Eng­land Pats, 34-28 in over­time.

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