I suppose the better question is this: Will the Falcons ever recover from what happened last Sunday night? Their collapse against the Patriots was an all-timer, and it’s fair to wonder if the scars of blowing a 28-3 lead will undo this group forever. Losing the team’s offensive mastermind won’t help matters.
But we do know this: The Falcons will be back in 2017, and one can imagine they’ll frame their stunning Super Bowl defeat as the ultimate motivating force. In fact, we know this because the team has published an intense video that exalts the power and redemptive spirit of “The Brotherhood.”
Sarkisian’s role as the Crimson Tide play-caller was brief: He was named to the post last month — ahead of the BCS National Championship Game — after former Alabama coordinator Lane Kiffin accepted the head-coaching job at Florida Atlantic.
“As a play-caller I felt like, number one, what an aggressive play-caller he’s been through the years,” Quinn said of the reason behind the hire. “He has a real familiarity from the live zone scheme, the play action, the keepers. That’s such a big part of what we do. It’s him as a play-caller, two of the guys that I respect most in our profession, Pete (Carroll) and Nick (Saban) and being part of both of their programs, I know what he stands for as a coach.”
“We appreciate all Coach Sarkisian did for our program during his time here,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “He is an outstanding coach, and we wish him the best in his new role as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. As always, when we have an opening on our staff, we will use it as an opportunity to go out and hire the best coach available.”
Sarkisian previously served as an analyst for Alabama after being fired as head coach at USC in 2015. He was let go by the Trojans after reportedly arriving late for team meetings while intoxicated. Sarkisian subsequently checked into rehab before filing a lawsuit against USC stating that he was discriminated against because of a disability.
In Atlanta, Sarkisian faces the challenge of keeping one of the NFL’s premier offenses operating at a Super Bowl level. Under Shanahan, MVP passer Matt Ryan led an attack that led the league in scoring and dominated defenses from wire-to-wire until falling just short in Super Bowl LI.
It’s an enviable role in Atlanta, though, where the offense will bring back Ryan, star wideout Julio Jones and versatile running back Devonta Freeman, among others.
Getting back to the big game is no easy task. Valuable coaches are lost and free agents vanish, while those left over are asked to duplicate the previous year’s success.
The Falcons were faster, more athletic and clearly not affected by their pronounced lack of Super Bowl experience. What they realized rather quickly was that New England was far more beatable than anybody expected. The Patriots didn’t have Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski (who is on injured reserve), and they had traded away two of their best young defenders over the previous 10 months (defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Jamie Collins). The longer this game went on in the first half, the more obvious it was that the Pats were going to have a hard time keeping pace with their younger opponents.
What New England did prove is that it doesn’t matter how you start in these games, it’s about how you finish — a lesson that would’ve served Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan well. He had Atlanta’s offense rolling in the first half. But it’s fair to wonder why he was so determined to keep calling pass plays late in the fourth quarter, with the Falcons positioned deep in Patriots territory and perfectly capable of hitting that easy field goal. The same aggressive nature that defined this team’s offense all season ultimately cost it a championship, even if the players didn’t see it that way.
“I thought Kyle did a good job for us tonight,” Ryan said. “We had some opportunities to make a couple plays and we made a few mistakes. When you’re playing a team as good as New England, those mistakes are going to cost you.”
The rub of that statement is that Atlanta knew the one thing it couldn’t do against New England was beat itself. The Falcons also knew a thing or two about collapses because they’ve lived through them before. Most of the players on this roster were on this team last season, when it started 5-0 and finished 3-8. They were supposed to be mentally tougher now, and their NFC championship was proof of that maturity.
The reality is that young teams sometimes have to learn hard lessons, and this was one of the most brutal.
“It’s hard tonight for the lessons,” Quinn said. “But what I can say is that you can’t truly be relentless until you’ve had something taken away or you didn’t get it. We are a tough team. Although it’s difficult, I would like to think that, with this group, we’re putting our stamp on things and showing people that we’re just getting started with China jerseys.”
That is the upside of all this. The Falcons have enough talent and enough quality coaching to believe they have a great chance of returning to this stage sometime soon. If that opportunity does arise, they certainly will benefit from what happened on Sunday night. If it doesn’t, then they’ll always remember how they once had the Lombardi Trophy well within their grasp, only to watch it slip away to a proven dynasty.