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How the Atlanta Falcons Imploded in Both Super Bowl Appearances

Scott Morris | February 2, 2024

The Atlanta Falcons were an expansion franchise in 1966, the year of the first Super Bowl. In their 58 seasons, the Falcons are 390-503-6. That is the fifth-worst record among all franchises in the NFL. Atlanta didn’t make the playoffs until 1978 and the Falcons have only played in two Super Bowls. They have lost both, but it’s not just the losses themselves. It’s how Atlanta lost. In both Super Bowl appearances, the Falcons imploded and the result was disaster.

Super Bowl XXXIII (1998)

The Falcons won nine straight games to end the 1998 regular season and finish 14-2. They advanced through the playoffs and defeated the Minnesota Vikings 30-27 in overtime in the NFC championship game. Atlanta would meet the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII. Much of the leadup to the Super Bowl involved Falcons head coach Dan Reeves. 

Falcons lose first Super Bowl

Here, Eugene Robinson is getting cooked by a Broncos receiver in the Super Bowl

Reeves had been the Broncos head coach from 1981 to 1992. He led Denver and QB John Elway to three Super Bowls, but the Broncos lost them all. Reeves also made the news because he had undergone heart bypass surgery after Week 14. Doctors said that he had the surgery just in time, otherwise he would have suffered a catastrophic cardiac event.

Then, came another catastrophic event.

On the day before the Super Bowl, Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson was presented with the Bart Starr Award. The award is given annually to an NFL exhibiting “high moral character.” That night, Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute, who just happened to be an undercover cop. Robinson was released from jail and played in the Super Bowl, but the damage was done.

With a little over 11 minutes left in Super Bowl XXXIII, Denver led 31-6. If not for Tim Dwight’s kickoff return touchdown and a meaningless Terence Mathis TD catch, the 34-19 final would have been a lot worse.

A Groundhog Day Moment – Super Bowl LI

It would be another 18 years before the Falcons would get back to the Super Bowl. In 2016, Atlanta won the NFC South Division with an 11-5 record. The Falcons beat Green Bay in the NFC championship and had the league’s MVP that year – QB Matt Ryan. It was the first season for new head coach Dan Quinn and a young offensive coordinator by the name of Kyle Shanahan. Atlanta led the NFL in points (540) and Ryan’s passing numbers – 4,944 yards and 38 TDs – ranked second in the league.

Super Bowl LI started pretty much as expected. The league’s best offense jumped out to a 21-0 with just over two minutes left in the first half. The New England Patriots managed a late first-half field goal to put some points on the board.

Falcons horrific Super Bowl chokeThe Falcons scored first in the second half too. They took the ball from their own 15-yard line, scoring on an 85-yard drive that took over four minutes and gave Atlanta a seemingly insurmountable 28-3 lead. Tevin Coleman’s six-yard pass from Ryan came with just 4:14 left in the third quarter.

Then, implosion once again. New England would score on its next possession, going 75 yards in 13 plays. The Falcons defense would then suffer at the hands of Patriots QB Tom Brady. Brady would finish 43-of-62 for 466 yards and two touchdowns. New England forced overtime and won it on a 2-yard run by RB James White. Atlanta abandoned the run and couldn’t generate first downs. New England would end up running 93 offensive plays compared to Atlanta’s 46. 

Down 25 points late in the third quarter, Brady and the Patriots would complete the largest comeback ever in Super Bowl history. Since losing that second Super Bowl, the Falcons are 49-66. They returned to the playoffs in 2017, but have not been back since. Raheem Morris was just hired by the Falcons. He’ll be the team’s fourth head coach since Super Bowl LI.

 

 

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