The Atlanta Falcons lost Super Bowl LI in disappointing fashion. I can’t imagine it’s fun being on the wrong side of the largest comeback in your sport. And to lose to the New England Patriots, of all teams, after being up by so much must be especially painful.
Losing the Super Bowl is never easy on a team. Things begin to fall apart. You blame each other. You blame your coaches. You blame yourself. It’s almost better to lose in the NFC or AFC Championship Game. In fact, Super Bowl losers are statistically lucky just to make it back to the playoffs the next year (e.g. the Carolina Panthers this past season).
Of course, the Falcons are only a half year removed from their loss. They’re still stuck with much of the same group of guys. Matt Ryan is still the quarterback. Julio Jones is still the star wide receiver. The defense and special teams won’t look terribly different this season.
But, there is one key piece of the puzzle missing: offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan was responsible for the Falcons sudden offensive recovery over the past two seasons. They went from barely breaking even in an unusually weak NFC South division to a Super Bowl contender in two seasons under Shanahan’s play calling.
For that reason, Shanahan was one of the top names on the list for teams looking for a new head coach, and, the day after losing the Super Bowl, Shanahan agreed to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Maybe leaving so soon left a sour taste in some of the other guys’ mouths. Or, maybe, since he’s one of the only major parts of the team no longer in the locker room, some of the guys felt like they could take their frustrations out on him without fear of creating a divisive atmosphere within the franchise. Either way, Matt Ryan seemed to let loose when asked about the play calling in the second half of Super Bowl LI as compared to the explosive first half.
“Kyle’s play calls—he would take time to get stuff in,” said Ryan. “As I was getting it, you’re looking at the clock, and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don’t have a lot of time to say, ‘There’s 16 seconds, no, no, no, we’re not going to do that. Hey, guys, we’re going to line up and run this.’ You’re talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.”
Basically, Shanahan became way too indecisive and way too slow for Ryan’s liking. As a result, it became near impossible for Ryan to do anything else because of the delays in calling plays.
“With the way Kyle’s system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with [former coordinator Dirk Koetter],” continued Ryan. “You couldn’t get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I’m all for it. But there’s also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”
It’s hard to blame Ryan for lashing out at Shanahan because, again, I can’t even imagine how bad losing the Super Bowl feels, especially in the worst fashion in NFL history. But, it still doesn’t seem like a great idea for the leader of the organization to be lashing out at former coaches like that. Maybe Ryan realized this, or someone told him, as he walked back his comments, playing it off as the media twisting things to make a story.
“I think sometimes the headlines of articles can be misleading,” said Ryan. “In that situation, it was just a reference to how we operated all year. It wasn’t coming in too late or anything. That’s just the way it came in. I thought Kyle did a great job for us last year. I think everybody is reading a little bit too much into it, and it is what it is. But we’ve moved on. We’re on to this year. And we’re focused on trying to become the best football team that this team can be.”
To be fair to Ryan, the mainstream media certainly has a history of twisting words to make a story more of an attention grabber (even in the sports world); however, this situation is a little different—we have a quote.
So, unless the press just flat out misquoted Ryan, which he never made any reference to nor does it seem likely, it’s hard to cover up those words.
It almost makes you wish the Falcons were playing the 49ers this season—then again; there’s no telling if either team will be any good just yet.