The Atlanta Falcons’ late-game play-calling in their collapse against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI will remain one of the bigger mysteries of the game.
With under five minutes to go, leading the Patriots 28-20, the Falcons got into field-goal range thanks to an amazing sideline catch by Julio Jones.
However, the Falcons then suffered a meltdown. They lost one yard on a first-down run, then got sacked attempting a pass on second down, got called for offensive holding on third down, and failed to complete a pass on 3rd-and-long.
They were forced to punt to the Patriots, who tied the game on the ensuing drive.
The NFL world immediately wondered why the Falcons would pass when they had the opportunity to run the ball, run the clock down, and attempt a field goal that would have pushed their lead to 11.
After the game, both Matt Ryan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said that this type of offence was part of their offensive philosophy, citing an overall aggressiveness that got them to the Super Bowl in the first place.
“The thought is to get as many yards as you can. And we were right there on the fringe. It was by no means an easy field goal. From what I remember, we ran in on first-and-10 and lost yards. Got into second-and-11, so we try to get a pass to get us back into a manageable third down, closer to the field goal, and we took a sack. Taking a sack … got us into a third-and-20, so we threw a quick pass trying to get back into field goal range, which we did. But there was a holding call on the play. And when you get a holding call on third-and-20, it goes back that far. We were way out of field goal range. We tried our best to get back in but couldn’t get it done.”
Shanahan also addressed the pass-to-run ratio that many people questioned after the Falcons failed to stay within field-goal range.
“It’s not really the run-pass ratio that I look at,” Shanahan said. “It’s you stay on the field, and you run your offence. [We] went three-and-out two times, which was huge. I think we had second-and-1 on both of those. To not convert on second-and-1 and then third, it was tough. That’s why we let them get back into the game.”
Although Shanahan’s logic makes sense, it’s still worth wondering why the Falcons did not play it safe and try to pound the ball for a few extra yards before kicking the field goal. While the Falcons owned the best passing attack in the league this season, they risked field position and their lead by opting to attack the Patriots.
They ultimately came up short against a surging Patriots team, and their inability to stay on the field and run down the clock left their defence vulnerable as the Patriots kept attacking.