FLOWERY BRANCH — After the Falcons blew their fourth fourth-quarter lead in a loss to Kansas City, coach Dan Quinn was at a loss for words.
“I don’t have a reason behind that,” Quinn said after the 29-28 loss on Dec. 4. “Those are the lessons that we’re learning.”
Apparently, the Falcons didn’t get the lesson as they blew a fifth fourth-quarter lead in the Super Bowl, coughing up a 25-point lead in traumatic fashion. They tossed away a 17-point lead earlier in the season to San Diego.
There’s no need to review the Super Bowl, that’s still fresh in everyone’s memory.
But let’s take a look back the four blown leads which reveals a variety of ways to botch leads with one common denominator: a Matt Ryan interception in all four losses. Ryan didn’t have an interception in the Super Bowl, but he was credited with a turnover when running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on a blitz pickup.
In Ryan’s MVP season, four of his seven interceptions were in the fourth quarter of games in which the team has blown a lead. Ryan didn't speak to the local media on Tuesday during the final session, but he did address the fans on Twitter.
Here’s a review of how the Falcons blew four fourth-quarter leads during the regular season, perhaps foreshadowing what was to happen at NRG Stadium in Super Bowl LI:
Seattle 26, Atlanta 24: On Oct. 16, the Falcons took a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter and maintained that lead by a point when Ra’Shede Hagemen blocked an extra point after a Christine Michael touchdown run.
Taking possession with 4:43 to play, a power running game should have been able to run out the clock. But instead of pounding the ball into Seattle’s eight-man front, the Falcons passed to Pat DiMarco (3 yards) and Devonta Freeman (11 yards) to pick up a first down.
But an first-and-10 from the Falcons’ 29, Ryan’s pass for Julio Jones was intercepted by Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Both Ryan and Jones tried to take blame, but the ball hit Jones in the hands. The Seahawks won it on a 44-yard field goal.
The Falcons’ last-ditch drive was stymied by a non-call on a rather obvious pass interference committed by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
San Diego 33, Atlanta 30 (OT): On Oct. 23, the Falcons blew a 17-point lead but still led 30-20 with 13:23 to play in the fourth quarter.
After Chargers running back Melvin Gordon scored to make it 30-27, Ryan attempted to fit a pass into a closely defended Jones and was intercepted Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman with 3:41 left. The Chargers tied the game on a field goal and the game went to overtime after Matt Bryant’s 58-yard attempt hit the left upright.
In overtime, Perryman stuffed Freeman on a fourth-and-1 from Atlanta’s 45. Five plays later, Josh Lambo made a 42-yard field goal for the victory.
Philadelphia 24, Atlanta 15: On Nov. 13, the Falcons took the lead 15-13 after Ryan connected with Taylor Gabriel on a 76-yard touchdown with 13:15 left to play.
But while the Falcons were being stopped over their next three possessions, the Eagles added a touchdown, a two-point conversation and a field goal for a 24-15 lead.
Needing two scores, Ryan was intercepted by Leodis McKelvin with 1:55 to play.
Kansas City 29, Atlanta 28: On Sunday, the Falcons scrambled back to take a short-lived 28-27 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Freeman with 4:32 to play.
The Falcons went for the two-point conversion, but Kansas City safety Eric Berry baited Ryan into throwing to tight end Austin Hooper. Berry circled back in front of Hooper, took away the ball and ran 100 yards for a pick-2.
“I saw man coverage in front of me, I beat my man and I just looked, knowing I was the primary target,” Hooper said. “I am running and running, I am seeing the ball and I am going up to get it. Then the safety was just sitting in that part of the zone and just jumped it.”
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