Playing the Patriots on Sunday Night Football this weekend is either the best possible thing for the this Falcons season, or the worst, but it is absolutely one or the other.
Most matchups during a 16-game season have some area of gray in regard to the impact the outcome will have. Aside from the rare Week 16 or Week 17 contest against a divisional opponent that literally dictates who gets into the playoffs or not, most games can be viewed in any number of ways even if your team loses. And when you have a Week 7 game that isn’t even against a conference opponent, this isn’t usually a make-or-break proposition.
However, Falcons at Patriots this Sunday is anything but usual.
Even without the context of these past two losses to Buffalo and Miami, this game was always going to mean more given the way Super Bowl 51 ended. But now, add to that the incessant offseason trolling from every direction including the Patriots themselves, and the fact that the Falcons just blew the second biggest lead of the year heading into the matchup against the team where they blew the biggest lead of the year, and you have one heck of a powder keg.
Dan Quinn and the team will tell you that this game has no extra significance or that the team isn’t attempting to “exorcize” any remaining demons from last year. But we know better than that. Because even if they have somehow convinced themselves inside the walls of Flowery Branch that this is just another game, that’s not the case for you, a diehard Falcons fan. There is a stubbornness at the core of every true sports fan. It’s the feeling that somehow keeps you coming back after years of disappointment. That stubbornness borders on pettiness at times, and in special situations like the one this weekend presents, you want revenge. And you should.
That’s why this game comes at the perfect time. NBC and the national media were already going to harp on 28-3 anyway, whether the Falcons were 5-0 or 3-2. Had this recent blown lead to the Dolphins come in Week 2 or Week 13, those same national media were going to equate what happened to the Super Bowl. Might as well have those narratives collide the same week, right?
It’s a perfect cocktail of anger.
The slow burn of the season-long attempt to avenge the Super Bowl, with the quick punch of blowing a 17-point lead to Jay Cutler. The Falcons just ordered you the “shot and a beer” of tortured fandom.
A win over New England on Sunday would accomplish so much. There are, of course, the obvious and tangible things like breaking a two-game skid and getting a much-needed road victory, as well as keeping your record above .500. But this game isn’t about that kind of stuff.
It’s about vengeance.
The Patriots put 283 diamonds in their Super Bowl rings. They left 28-3 on the scoreboard while Mark Wahlberg, or Ben Aflleck or some other Boston fanboy who’s name I don’t remember, yelled at the crowd on opening night. And you can bet that they’ll find a way to bring that number into play during the game this weekend too.
There is also the undeniable fact that this team has an issue closing out games. They’ve had a double digit lead in five of their past six games dating back to the Super Bowl. They’ve only won one of those games by double digits, and their record is 3-3 in that stretch. None of this would be nearly as frustrating if this team wasn’t so obviously good.
Beat them, and none of that goes away. But, it starts to get better. Take them down in their house on national TV and you start to shift the conversation back to how talented the Falcons are instead of how often they surrender leads. Go out and score 30-plus on the worst defense in the NFL and we can move on from questioning every decision Steve Sarkisian makes. Put Tom Brady on his butt enough times for us to remember the excitement of the “NASCAR package” and the depth of this defense.
Not often does a Week 7 game offer this much, but that’s the situation where the Falcons find themselves. This game is binary. The outcome is either great or terrible. Let’s hope for great, otherwise we’re all going need a real shot and a beer on Sunday night.