The game of the day arrives tonight, when the Falcons and Patriots meet for a rematch the game of the year. In Super Bowl LI, Atlanta coughed up a 25-point lead and capped the collapse by blowing a chance to ice the game while still up by eight and in field goal range. But the obvious story line — that this gives the Falcons a chance for some sort of closure — is the very story line the Falcons have been desperate to downplay all year.
“No, no closure,” Blank told Ian Rapoport of NFL Media while leaving the league meetings held in New York this week. “There’s nothing open. I mean, if there’s nothing open, there’s nothing to close.”
Saying it doesn’t make it so, however. For months, the Falcons have been saying there’s no Super Bowl hangover, but surely there is — especially when the problem of blown leads still exits, most recently via a 17-0 collapse against the Dolphins last week.
“Last year is finished,” Blank said, surely hopeful that the words can will the team toward an impossible destination. “I’d say the franchise had a wonderful year, I mean that truly. Both on and off the field. We finished our stadium, the team had a wonderful year, competed at the highest level. It didn’t end the way we wanted to, we certainly didn’t conclude the way we wanted to. But we’ve learned from it, grown from it, I think we’re better for it.”
“Better” can be defined in a variety of ways. At 3-2, the Falcons definitely aren’t “better” than they were in 2016 through five games. And with a loss tonight, they’ll have to go 9-1 over the final 10 game to be “better” than they were for the full season.
Regardless, Blank insists that an eight-month reunion with the Patriots means nothing other than it’s the next game the 2017 Falcons have to play.
“I don’t think it’s an issue, I really don’t,” Blank said, convincing few along the way that it’s not an issue. “Not for the staff, the coach, for the players. They are onto this year. You have this 24-hour rule. You don’t have a grace period from one year to the next because you lost the Super Bowl. It doesn’t work that way. You don’t get six days off when you lose a game to end your season. We’re beyond that. Right now, we’ve lost the last two games at home — which is not good. We’re on the road for three games. We got enough to focus on.”
He’s right about that, but they also are thinking about the Super Bowl rematch, no matter how hard Blank or coach Dan Quinn or anyone else is trying to say that they’re not. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just acknowledge the obvious instead of trying to act like it’s not there?
And even if the team’s players who were on the team in February somehow magically forget what they experienced in February in Houston as the game begins, there’s no way they’ll forget about it if they happen to build a double-digit lead in the second half. Or if they’re driving toward the New England end zone with a chance to make it a two-score game at a time when the Patriots wouldn’t have enough time to score twice.