Dan Quinn's squad spent all offseason dismissing the notion that they would suffer from a Super Bowl hangover. The widespread 28-3 memes and the constant reminders of the flop, however, must have some influence at a subconscious level.
Ahead of Sunday's season-opening tilt versus the Chicago Bears, former wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. -- who has personal experience losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl -- said on NFL Network's NFL GameDay Morning there will be some lingering mental hurdles Falcons players must overcome.
"They were 17 minutes from a Super Bowl ring. Seventeen. So close but yet so far," Smith said. "You can say whatever you want to say. 'It's behind us,' 'we're not looking in the rearview mirror' -- yeah you are. When teams have adversity, or they have some tendencies to do things that are significant, they go: 'here we go again.' Where a team can't finish in the fourth quarter, or they can't get over themselves, or they shoot themselves in the foot at a particular time in the game, that shows a pattern. They are going to have some hangover. The biggest game of their careers. And they flushed it down the toilet. Gave it away."
The 25-point blown lead was the largest in Super Bowl history. None of the three previous teams to blow a lead of 10-plus points to lose the Super Bowl made it back to the championship game the following season, per NFL Research. However, the past two teams to do so (2015 Seahawks, 2000 Colts) each finished 10-6 and returned to the playoffs.
NFL Network's Michael Robinson agreed with Smith that things won't go as smoothly for the Falcons as 2016, but pointed to the change at offensive coordinator from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian as the main reason.
"It takes so much to get to that game. And you think, 'ah man we'll go back next year' or 'we'll have an easy chance to go back.' And most teams never see it once, better yet see it twice. Are they going to have a hangover? I think they will," Robinson said. "But for me, losing Kyle Shanahan, the play-caller, the way they used to move Julio Jones all the way around. To me, I thought Kyle Shanahan did a masterful job last season. A masterful job last season of creating free releases for Julio Jones. And when this guy gets going, he's scary going down the field. He's fast, and he's scary. So, I'm looking at this offense and seeing if they can kind of recapture some of that magic from last year."
The Falcons start their season on the road against a Bears team with major question marks on both sides of the ball. It could be a fortuitous matchup to help Atlanta toss some dirt on the demons that have haunted them all offseason.