The Falcons dealt with this the whole offseason, and you saw it, because it was impossible to miss it—28–3, 28–3, 28–3. And riding shotgun to all the taunting was the idea that the mother of all Super Bowl hangovers was coming as a result of the mother of all Super Bowl collapses.
Two weeks in, not so much. And the Falcons have handled all of this so well, because they haven’t run from it. As recently as last week, players—all the way up the chain to Matt Ryan—were speaking freely about overcoming the past. There wasn’t a ceremonial burial of a football, or an embargo on talking about 2016. Instead, the players and coaches have hit what they had coming right between the eyes.
And the reason why is simple. They did what few NFL teams have the stomach to when things go sideways—behind the GM they’ve stuck with for a decade and a head coach they’ve invested in, they believed in their course and stuck to it.
You can start, too, with one thing that actually changed. Atlanta handled its biggest offseason defection—Kyle Shanahan leaving to coach the Niners—by asking every candidate they interviewed, “can you run his offense?” In essence, screaming to the players, stay the course. The man Quinn found, Steve Sarkisian, has background with Pete Carroll, another sign of how Atlanta was building on the program, not tearing it down. So while the pilot was different, the script wasn’t and, at least on Sunday, neither was the result. Matt Ryan and company rolled up 257 yards and 24 points in the first half alone against Green Bay.
If they looked unaffected by all the noise, that makes sense too, because it had been impressed on the players that they’d been through a smaller version of this before. During Dan Quinn’s first season with the Falcons, the team saw a 6–1 start evaporate into an 8–8 finish—and that loomed over the 2016 offseason. The same way 28–3 will come up this year every time Atlanta has a lead, the 2–7 meltdown served as a caveat to every early-season win they had last year. And the Falcons were able to plow through all of that on their way to the Super Bowl.
And then, finally, there’s Quinn himself, a coach who was the king of the 2015 coaching carousel in large part because of his ability to reach players and lead, qualities that equipped him for the aftermath of the letdowns of both the ’15 season, and Super Bowl LI.
We don’t know yet whether or not the Falcons are going to be where they were last year, with a shot to win the franchise’s first world title. But what we should’ve known all along was simple—they most certainly were equipped to handle all that was coming their way.