Falcons' flop a new low for Atlanta's sad sporting history

Falcons' flop a new low for Atlanta's sad sporting history

HOUSTON -- Well, Atlanta, there's nothing left to say.

The city once known as "Loserville" was cruising toward its first Super Bowl championship, leading Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots by 25 points.

TWENTY-FIVE!

Back in Atlanta, the city was all ready to bust loose in a celebration like no other, seemingly assured of finally putting to rest its history of sports flops.

Then, it happened.

The greatest flop of them all.

This one will take a long, long time to get over.

"I'm kind of numb," said Falcons safety Ricardo Allen, who might as well been speaking for an entire city. "I don't really know what to feel. I'm broken inside, because this is not us. I'm kind of numb to the feeling, man. It's terrible. It's one of the worst feelings ever. I'm not a guy that forgets very easy. I'll probably never forget this. It will always be haunting."

Brady engineered a stunning comeback, leading the Patriots to a pair of touchdowns and a pair of 2-point conversions that sent the Super Bowl to overtime for the first time.

At that point, it was a mere formality.

The Patriots won the coin toss.

Of course.

The Patriots drove right down the field for the championship-winning touchdown.

Of course.

The final: New England 34, Atlanta 28.

Brady will long be remembered for his record-breaking performance, completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards, and this will certainly go down as one of the greatest title games in NFL history.

That's little consolation to the Falcons.

"That's a hard one in the locker room," coach Dan Quinn said. "No place to put that one mentally for us. But I am proud of the fight these guys have. The brotherhood this group has built, it's as strong as I've ever seen."

In the A-T-L, this will join the Braves blowing a 6-0 lead in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, the Hawks squandering a chance to eliminate Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics in the 1988 NBA playoffs, and Danny White leading the Dallas Cowboys back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Falcons in a 1981 playoff game.

But, really, nothing comes close to this level of sporting disappointment.

The Falcons spent nearly three quarters playing with the swagger and confidence of a team that wasn't the least bit concerned about their city's history. Heading to the fourth quarter, they were still up 28-9. The Patriots tacked on a field goal early in the fourth, but Atlanta was still comfortably ahead.

Then, the play that turned the momentum solidly in New England's favor.

MVP Matt Ryan dropped back to pass, was hit by Dont'a Hightower just before his arm came forward to pass, and the ball popped lose. The Patriots recovered at the Atlanta 25.

It was the only Falcons' turnover of the postseason.

"We had some opportunities to make plays," Ryan said. "We just missed on a couple of things and just made a few mistakes and ultimately, when you're playing a real good football team like New England, those mistakes ended up costing us."

Even after Ryan's turnover and the ensuing Patriots touchdown, Atlanta was still in position to put the victory away when Julio Jones made a stunning catch along the sideline, ripping the ball away from a defender and somehow getting both feet down before tumbling out of bounds at the New England 22.

With under 5 minutes remaining and the Falcons still up 28-20, all they needed to do was run three more plays and set up for a field goal by Pro Bowl kicker Matt Bryant that would finally put the Patriots away.

Devonta Freeman was thrown for a 1-yard loss, but that wasn't a huge deal.

What happened next was a big deal.

Instead of another run, Ryan set up for a pass. He was thrown for a 12-yard loss and, just like that, the Falcons were on the fringe of Bryant's range.

Any hope for a field goal was lost when Jake Matthews was called for a holding penalty that set Atlanta back another 10 yards.

That sequence will surely haunt outgoing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan , who was acclaimed for his work with the league's highest-scoring team and will shortly be named head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

"You always want to run the ball if you can," Shanahan said. "We got into field-goal range, where we would've ended it. But getting that sack and that hold call was tough."

The Falcons were forced to punt it back to Brady and a Patriots team that was brimming with bravado.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when they marched right down the field, 91 yards, for James White's short touchdown run.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when Brady hooked up with Danny Amendola on a 2-point pass that tied the game with 57 seconds remaining.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when the Falcons, without any timeouts, failed to muster anything on their final offensive possession.

It wasn't the least bit shocking when the Patriots won the toss and drove down the field one more time, 75 yards in just eight plays, and finished off the Falcons with a 2-yard touchdown run.

The city of Atlanta had seen it all before.

For complete Super Bowl LI coverage, see CSNNE.com.

NFL Notes: NFL looking to speed up games via officiating and breaks

NFL Notes: NFL looking to speed up games via officiating and breaks

NEW YORK -- The NFL is making plans to speed up the pace of games, including changing how video replays are handled and using a time clock for extra points.

The league also is discussing with the TV networks how to make commercial breaks less intrusive.

For officiating replays, the referee no longer would go under a hood to watch a play. Instead, a tablet will be brought to him on the field and he will consult with league headquarters in New York. The final call will be made in New York.

Support by 75 percent of the 32 team owners would be needed at next week's annual meetings for passage of the proposal.

In addition to a time clock for PATs when there is no TV break, the league is considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown.

Also, to improve the flow of games on the field and for television audiences, commercial breaks would be reduced from 21 per game to 16, although each would last 30 seconds longer.

Giants: RB Shaun Draughn signs
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants have signed veteran running back Shaun Draughn.

The Giants announced the signing Wednesday, a little more than a month after releasing veteran Rashad Jennings in a salary cap move.

Draughn has played for six teams in six years, most recently the San Francisco 49ers. He has played in 57 games with seven starts. His career totals include 225 carries for 723 yards and seven touchdowns, plus 80 receptions for 597 yards and two scores. He also has 17 special teams tackles.

Draughn says the Giants were interested in his versatility. He says: "I don't know exactly how they'll use me. I'm sure they'll use me to the strengths that I have."

Draughn played in all 16 games last season with one start for the 49ers. He scored a career-high four touchdowns while rushing for 194 yards on 74 carries. Draughn also had career-best totals of 29 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

He joins a backfield that includes second-year pro Paul Perkins, the team's top returning rusher, Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen.

Bengals: 'Pacman' Jones faces misdemeanor charges
CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones faces three misdemeanor charges, including assault, but no longer is charged with a felony.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters (DEE'-turs) announced Wednesday that a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance was dismissed at the prosecuting attorney's request.

Deters said the misdemeanors also include disorderly conduct and obstructing official business.

The 33-year-old veteran whose career has been marked by off-the-field legal issues was jailed Jan. 3 after a confrontation with a hotel security employee was followed by a struggle with Cincinnati police and a sheriff's office report Jones spit on a nurse's hand.

Deters says the criminal charge won't be pursued, given that the nurse has been pursuing a possible civil remedy.

A Bengals spokesman said the team has no comment.

Two Eagles question why Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned

Two Eagles question why Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned

Two weeks into NFL free agency and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains available. He decided to test the market in free agency after not picking up the player option on his contract.

While there's still a chance Kaepernick gets signed, a couple of Eagles players are pointing out that some of the quarterbacks to get contracts recently aren't as good.   

On Monday, Geno Smith signed with the Giants, Josh McCown signed with the Jets and E.J. Manuel signed with the Raiders.

Kaepernick has a better record and completion percentage than those three quarterbacks. He's also second in touchdown passes, trailing only McCown by seven, 79-72, despite playing nine fewer seasons.

So, why aren't teams giving the quarterback who nearly won the Super Bowl against the Ravens in 2013 a chance?

It could be because of his protest of the national anthem last season.

According to Bleacher Report, about 20 percent of teams around the league believe he can play, but the others are simply using showing no interest as punishment for his protest:

"He can still play at a high level," one AFC general manager said. "The problem is three things are happening with him.

"First, some teams genuinely believe that he can't play. They think he's shot. I'd put that number around 20 percent.

"Second, some teams fear the backlash from fans after getting him. They think there might be protests or [President Donald] Trump will tweet about the team. I'd say that number is around 10 percent. Then there's another 10 percent that has a mix of those feelings.

"Third, the rest genuinely hate him and can't stand what he did [kneeling for the national anthem]. They want nothing to do with him. They won't move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did."

And of course, President Donald Trump chimed in on Kaepernick's status in free agency.

Last year, Trump commented on Kaepernick's decision not to stand for the national anthem saying, ​"maybe he should find a country that works better for him."