The Falcons choked away a Super Bowl win thanks to one baffling drive

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Mark Humphrey/AP

The New England Patriots mounted a stunning comeback in Super Bowl 51, roaring back from a 28-3 deficit before knocking off the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28, on Sunday night.

And looking back on the loss, the Falcons will most likely point to one key drive late in the fourth quarter that should have finished the Patriots off for good.

Let’s break this down, because it’s one of those drives that’s easy to overlook considering all the other mayhem that transpired.

Leading 28-20 with 4:45 left in regulation, the Falcons had the ball. Their offense had been listless for the bulk of the second half, but on this particular play quarterback Matt Ryan escaped the pocket and connected with Julio Jones.

Jones’ catch was outrageous – how he managed to elevate to haul the pass in and then get both feet in bounds was mind-blowing.

This play put the Falcons well into field-goal range, and a field goal would have given the Falcons an 11-point lead. Considering the time left in the game and the fact that the Patriots needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion, a two-score game would have made the Patriots’ task nearly impossible.

The Falcons could have kneeled the ball on first, second, and third downs, took time off the clock, or at least forced New England to use its remaining timeouts. Instead, the Falcons opted for a pass play, and Ryan was sacked. At this point, the Falcons would have had to kick a 53-yard field goal to go up 11.

Here’s the sack:

On the ensuing play, the Falcons were called for offensive holding. Ten more yards in the wrong direction. All of a sudden, they were at midfield and out of field-goal range. After an incomplete pass on third and very long, they were forced to punt. And on that New England drive, Tom Brady marched his team downfield to score. The Patriots converted the two-point conversion, and the game went to overtime, where the Pats won. The Falcons did not even get the ball.

Again, all the Falcons had to do was keep themselves in field-goal range (and, of course, hit the field goal). That would have put them up two scores with three or so minutes left.

They couldn’t do it, and they lost.