The Atlanta Falcons, leading by a touchdown (and two-point conversion) 28-20 in Sunday’s Super Bowl, reached the New England 22-yard-line with less than 5 minutes to play after a remarkable catch by Julio Jones along the sidelines.
At that point, all Atlanta *probably had to do, at the very worst, was run a few plays that didn’t lose yardage, attempt a reasonable field goal using a pretty much automatic kicker, and watch the time melt away while New England pushed uphill in desperation against a two-score deficit.
If that set-up sounds familiar, dear Vikings fans, it should. Eighteen years ago in the NFC title game, the Vikings led these very same Falcons by almost exactly the same score (27-20) and pushed into Atlanta territory in the closing minutes *probably needing just a field goal from a very accurate kicker to salt the game away.
(*Probably in both cases because you never know, but still).
And, of course, we know what happened in next in both cases. Last night, Atlanta ran a series of plays that pushed the ball backwards — a sack and a penalty being the most damaging — and got driven out of field goal range. Instead of a Matt Bryant try — he missed just three field goals all year, and only one from inside 50 yards — the Falcons punted. New England predictably took that gift, marched down the field and tied the game. The Patriots then won in overtime.
In the NFC title game following the 1998 season, Gary Anderson — who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, a fact that is seared into our brains and adds to the pain — missed his try wide left. Atlanta used that gift to march down the field and predictably tie the game. The Falcons then won in overtime.
Vikings fans who secretly (or openly) have been wishing for some sort of revenge for that moment 18 years ago found it Sunday, albeit courtesy of a Patriots team that plenty of fans love to hate.
But the severity of it probably even made the most schadenfreude-thirsty among us wince. What happened Sunday to the Falcons was worse than what happened to the Vikings 18 years ago. It was much worse.
What happened to the Vikings was painful. Don’t get me wrong. But it was the culmination of a back-and-forth game, and it was only the NFC title game — not the Super Bowl. It was a one-possession game at halftime and for much of the second half.
The Falcons had a [redacted] 28-3 lead in the second half of the Super Bowl. I don’t care if the modern NFL creates more opportunities for quick scores and comebacks than the NFL of old. That’s still a four-score lead. And it was still 28-9 into the fourth quarter.
The Falcons had about 10 different moments when one play could have halted momentum and preserved a Super Bowl victory. They failed each and every time. It’s stunning enough to watch games like that in the regular season. It was surreal to see it happen in the Super Bowl.
If you believe in payback, this was loaning someone $100 and getting $1,000 back 18 years later when you least expected it.