Falcons, Patriots face Super Bowl rematch

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Bill Belichick
GETTY/AFP/File / Hannah Foslien Brett Hundley of the Green Bay Packers throws the ball during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 15, 2017

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan says revenge won’t be on his mind as he prepares to face the New England Patriots on Sunday for the first time since last season’s epic Super Bowl collapse.

Ryan and the Falcons authored the greatest choke in Super Bowl history in February when they squandered a 28-3 third quarter lead to lose 34-28 against Tom Brady’s Patriots.

The defeat denied Atlanta what would have been a first ever Super Bowl crown and led to months of painful post mortems as the Falcons sought to explain the meltdown.

Ryan was at the centre of the play which more than any other is cited as the moment that the Falcons lost the Super Bowl, when he was sacked for a 12-yard loss as Atlanta moved into position for a field goal which would have made it a two possession game.

Ryan’s failure to throw away the ball before being sacked helped push the Falcons out of field goal range and enabled Brady to mount a decisive late drive to tie the game.

Ryan, the reigning NFL MVP, admitted that the Super Bowl defeat in Houston would leave lasting scars as he prepared for this weekend’s trip to New England.

– ‘It’s about 2017’ –

“I think it’s always going to be a part of you,” Ryan told reporters.

“There are things throughout your life that motivate you to be the best player that you can be, that get you out of bed in the morning. For sure, from a big-picture standpoint, you use all those things as motivation.”

Ryan however said the Falcons were preoccupied with addressing the erratic form which has dogged their start to the 2017 campaign.

After boasting the most potent offense in the NFL last season, the Falcons have spluttered so far this term, with a 3-2 record that sees them third in the NFC South behind Carolina and New Orleans.

“Honestly, it’s about this 2017 team,” Ryan said. “Seeing how good we can be. Seeing how good we can be offensively. Seeing how we can be better from last week to this week.”

Yet for all their attempts to draw a line under last season’s Super Bowl, the Falcons gave their fans an unwelcome flashback last weekend when they allowed a 17-0 lead against the Miami Dolphins to end in a 20-17 defeat.

The Patriots, too, say they won’t be dwelling on the past as they attempt to restore a sense of equilibrium.

– Evolving season –

Bill Belichick’s team lead the AFC East with a 4-2 record this year but have rarely convinced since suffering a season-opening mauling at home against the Kansas City Chiefs last month.

The Patriots’ have the third worst defense in the league, conceding 159 points — just over 26 points per outing — in six games this season.

Belichick is unruffled by the Patriots’ patchy start to the season, explaining it was to be expected that his team would be some way off the battle-hardened unit that triumphed in the Super Bowl.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that anyone can think a team that practiced for six months and played 19 regular season and postseason games and triple-digit practices, five months later, after not playing a game and having a fraction of that type of experience, can be anywhere close to the level of execution they were at five months before,” Belichick said.

“It’s impossible in my view.”

Elsewhere Sunday, the Green Bay Packers will attempt to overcome the loss of injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers when they take on the New Orleans Saints.

Quarterback Brett Hundley will make his first start for the Packers after replacing Rodgers, who suffered a broken collarbone during last weekend’s loss to Minnesota.

The Los Angeles Rams (4-2), meanwhile, one of the surprise packages of the season, will aim to keep up their momentum with victory over divisional rivals the Arizona Cardinals in a meeting at London’s Twickenham Stadium, the home of English rugby.