Anthony Beers, Staff Writer
The New Orleans Saints (4-5) defeated the Atlanta Falcons (8-1) by the score of 31-27 this past Sunday, thus ruining Atlanta’s hopes of a perfect season. No team has been able to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl since 1972, when the Miami Dolphins went 17-0 and beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
When Miami went undefeated, the NFL regular season was only 14 games long. Since then, the season has been extended to 16 games and no team has been able to complete the dream of perfection. In 2007, the New England Patriots completed a regular season record of 16-0, and fought their way to the Super Bowl against the underdog New York Giants. That season was a rollercoaster, especially after the Patriots defeated the Giants in the final week of the regular season with a score of 38-35. But just one month later the Giants faced the Patriots in the Super Bowl and shocked the world as Eli Manning threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining in the game. The Giants stunned the mighty Patriots 17-14, and the dream of an undefeated season remained unconquered.
This past weekend, the most recent team to utter the possibility of perfection was beaten in a tremendous football game in New Orleans. With 1:46 left in the game on the Saints two yard line, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan attempted a touchdown pass to wide receiver Roddy White, but the play was broken up by Saints cornerback Jabari Greer. The Saints won the game in dramatic fashion and handed Atlanta their first loss of the season. Atlanta is still very comfortable at the top of the NFC South with the best record in football, but their mentality as a football club is altered as a result of this loss.
It could be argued that in a twisted way, this loss benefits the Atlanta Falcons. The pressure of the perfect season has been diminished and the Falcons can get back to focusing on the real goal: winning the Super Bowl. How many losses the Super Bowl champs had isn’t a great concern when they hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy and confetti rains down. In fact, the pattern of recent years has been interesting. Last year’s Super Bowl champion New York Giants had a record of 9-7 and the Green Bay Packers had the same success the previous year when they won. For some reason, the teams that are sneaking into the playoffs are the ones that have been making miraculous runs at the title. Perhaps it’s because these teams have less pressure—almost nothing to lose.
Imagine if the New England Patriots had lost a game during the 2007 season. Could they have won the Super Bowl then? It’s a pointless conversation because no one can possibly know, but that Patriots’ offense was one of the best of all time. Quarterback Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes and wide receiver Randy Moss had 23 touchdown receptions; both are still NFL records. Quite frankly, they were absolutely stacked and no one thought they could lose. But the momentum of the Giants proved to be too much for them and one could argue that the Patriots had the additional pressure to go 19-0. Simply put, the Patriots were afraid to lose and the Giants had nothing to lose seeing as they were enjoying the ride.
So in the wake of the Falcons first loss of the season, it could have been worse, plus they have other problems to overcome. The past three seasons the Falcons made the playoffs and lost in the opening round each year. Young quarterback Matt Ryan and NFL legend Tony Gonzalez both haven’t ever won a playoff game. The Falcons’ focus now shifts to proving to the league that they are not a fluke and that they can do some damage come crunch time.
They can now get back to doing what all NFL teams should do: taking it one week at a time. There are no more thoughts of going undefeated and as a team they can relax a bit, but because trying to win the Super Bowl is a lot of pressure, the relaxation can’t last for long.