Will Falcons shake the typical Super Bowl-loss blues in time to make playoffs?
on the NFL Mark Craig
We were pecking away at our laptops with great confidence in Dan Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI at Houston’s NRG Stadium nine months ago.
Deadline, shmeadline. This Super Bowl is over, homeboy.
Atlanta led 28-3 when the Patriots took possession following a fourth Falcons touchdown. A wisecrack was made in the press box before Tom Brady lined up under center.
“Just think,” I said to Jim Souhan, Star Tribune columnist. “We’ll be able to tell everyone we were here when the Patriots come back and win this game.”
Don’t worry. Our stories will hold up. Matt Ryan has put the exclamation point on one of the greatest MVP seasons in NFL history! And Bill Brady are going Bye-Bye with a 4-3 record in Super Bowls!
It’s OK. Only 9½ minutes left. They still need two touchdowns and two two-pointers. Just work the clock down and …
Ryan is sacked! He loses the ball! Patriots take over at the Atlanta 25 with 8:24 left.
That’s when it was time to start rewriting history. Literally and very quickly.
The Patriots win 34-28 in overtime. Two newspaper deadlines are met as we pack up and head for the nearest IPA spigot joking about saving those leads we had midway through the third quarter.
Probably not a good idea.
There were laughs, sleep, a few Advils and then it was over.
The Falcons can only wish they had moved on so quickly. For them, the proverbial Super Bowl hangover has lingered through a groggy season that’s just starting to turn in the right direction heading into Sunday’s game against the Vikings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
This isn’t a new experience for a Super Bowl loser. In fact, of the first 50 teams to lose the Super Bowl, 66 percent of them (33) didn’t even win a playoff game the following season. Fifteen of them failed to even make the playoffs the following year.
The last to fall short of the playoffs the next year was last year’s Carolina Panthers. In 2015, they went 15-1 before losing to the Broncos in the Super Bowl. In 2016, they went 6-10.
Early last month, reporters tiptoed toward the “H-word” while asking Panthers coach Ron Rivera if he saw any similarities between his 2016 team and the 2017 Falcons team that had just lost three of four games while falling short of 18 points each time.
“You mean the hangover?” Rivera said. “It’s difficult. It really is.”
Four days later, his Panthers worsened the hangover by beating the Falcons 20-17. Atlanta was 4-4 and the offense was in crisis with Ryan struggling and Julio Jones invisible.
Last year’s offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, had moved on as 49ers head coach. And the odd hire of Steve Sarkisian looked even more questionable.
Sarkisian’s well-documented struggles with alcohol cost him the USC job two years ago. He was working as Alabama’s radio guy when he left the booth to direct Nick Saban’s offense in the national championship game.
Then, in a blink, he was coordinating last year’s No. 1-ranked offense. His only other NFL job was as quarterbacks coach of the Raiders in 2004.
Today, the Falcons are 7-4, riding a three-game winning streak and coming off a 14-point victory that featured Jones posting 253 yards and two touchdowns receiving.
“I think it was an adjustment period for them offensively [because] they got a new coordinator,” Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “I read some of Coach Quinn’s comments about how they were adjusting, getting to know each other.”
Perhaps the hangover has cleared. But history isn’t on Atlanta’s side.
Super Bowl losers have a combined 26-33 playoff record the next season. Only two of them — the 1970 Cowboys and the 1971 Dolphins — have gone from Super Bowl losers to Super Bowl winners the next season.
The last Super Bowl loser to return to the Super Bowl the next year was the 1992 Bills.
“Just knowing the disappointment,” said Rivera, “it sticks with you.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL