The Atlanta Falcons didn’t shake a monkey off the back of the franchise with a win in the divisional round of the playoffs last week against the Seattle Seahawks. They just replaced it with a new monkey: the blown lead.
The Falcons jumped out to a 17-0 lead just six seconds into the second quarter of the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta on Sunday. The Twitterverse exploded with pro-Falcons statements.
NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk had the road map for the team bus written from Flowery Branch, Ga. to the Superdome in New Orleans early on.
NFL Live host Trey Wingo suggested if the NFC Championship were a prize fight, it wouldn’t have lasted past the first quarter. But he also foreshadowed some possible perils for the Falcons.
But Wingo wasn’t as blunt about his foreshadowing as CBS Sports’ Jim Rome.
And Rome was right. Atlanta’s 17-point lead evaporated. The 49ers scored 10 second-quarter points to bring the game to within a touchdown before the Falcons put another touchdown’s distance between the two teams right before halftime.
In the second half Atlanta forgot how to score points—outscored 14-0 in the final two quarters of play and outlasted for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Why did Atlanta have trouble defending leads in the playoffs?
The same thing happened to the Falcons last week against the Seahawks in the divisional round. Atlanta had a 20-point lead at halftime that Seattle pecked away at until taking the lead late in the fourth quarter.
The difference between the divisional-round game and the NFC Championship was that the 49ers didn’t give up the lead once they wrangled it from Atlanta. The Falcons had no more late-game magic left.
Atlanta blowing, or almost blowing, early leads was a normal occurrence this season. In Week 2 Atlanta had a 20-7 lead over the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning. The Broncos made it close, but couldn’t catch up.
In Atlanta’s first loss of the season, in Week 10, the Falcons started with a 10-0 lead over the New Orleans Saints. Ryan and the Falcons couldn’t hold on.
For whatever reason, there have been multiple times this year when the Falcons have failed to keep their foot on the gas when jumping out to early leads. It bit the team for its first loss in New Orleans, and in a far more important situation, it bit the Falcons in the NFC Championship.
Is Ryan to blame? He threw for just 125 yards (he had 396 for the game) in the second half. Partially, maybe. But this is more an enactment of the entire offense.
Mitch Evans of CBS Radio’s 92.9 the Game in Atlanta tweeted staggering split statistics from Sunday’s NFC Championship.
It’s going to be hard for this Falcons team to move forward knowing that it couldn’t hold two leads in two 2012 playoff games. Over the course of those two games—in the Georgia Dome with very friendly crowds—the Falcons allowed the Seahawks and the 49ers to collectively erase a 37-0 deficit.
Forget about Ryan winning his first career playoff game, the new monkey is when will Atlanta learn to hold on to a lead in a game that truly matters?
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.