No more pain, just numbness: Atlanta Falcons plumb new depths of despair with bizarre Dallas loss

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Hello. My name is Jay, and I am an Atlanta Falcons fan.

I know I’m not supposed to admit this. I know that by the old-school rules of journalism I’m supposed to be impartial and unfeeling and all that. But that’s the thing about the Atlanta Falcons, a team I’ve rooted for my whole life: They drag you down muddy holes you never even knew existed, then they leave you there in the darkness and dare you to find your way back to the light.

You spin in spiritual pain, and the Falcons just stand there watching you.

See, with guys like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on the roster, Atlanta’s too good just to be plain old Jets-level wretched. The front office is one of the sleekest in sports, so we’re not going to see Washington Football Team-style dysfunction. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a magnificent showplace, a palace so opulent and fan-friendly that a cynic might just say it’s designed to blunt the impact of vomit-inducing on-field performances.

Because that’s what the Falcons do. They don’t just lose and move on to next week’s opponent. They lose in theatrical ways. Operatic ways. Epic-poems-told-for-generations ways.

The latest entry in the ongoing Ode To Falcon Futility: Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. Atlanta shot out to a 20-point lead, and no fan felt safe. Atlanta let the Cowboys scratch and scrabble their way almost to within striking distance, and no fan felt safe.

Atlanta was just seconds away from what should have been a routine walkoff road win when disaster struck and half a dozen Falcons appeared mystified by the concept of a “live ball” on an onside kickoff attempt.

What in the actual hell. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
What in the actual hell. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We could all see this coming. In Atlanta, “victory formation” is a falcon hit by a truck.

If that ridiculous onside kickoff had been a scene in a movie, I’d say the screenwriter had never watched a real football game. If this happened in Madden, I’d scream about glitches as I stomped my XBox into shards. If this had happened to a team of pee-wee players, you’d pull those kids out of football before their little psyches were damaged beyond repair.

This is why, from a journalist’s perspective, I love the Falcons. Journalists root for the story, as the old line goes, and there’s no better story than watching a team plummet from the highest of highs straight into the depths of hell. Every team that’s ever losing a game will use 28-3 as a rallying cry. Every team needing an onside kick to win will now enact The Falcons Maneuver. I would rather write a thousand columns on the agony of a catastrophic 40-39 defeat than the mundane slog of a 17-14 loss.

Bright side, then: immortality is immortality, however you can get it.

There are times, like Sunday, that Falcons fans surely wish for the anonymous indignity of, say, the Bengals. When Cincinnati loses, it doesn’t make national news; you just scan to see if one of the two or three fantasy-worthy players on their roster helped you or hurt you, and you move right on to the next game.

Falcons fans might also long for the kind of reliable incompetence that dogs teams like Detroit. You know the Lions are going to figure out a way to lose, no matter how good they look in the moment. So when the hammer drops, it’s not a surprise, it’s an expectation.

The Falcons don’t rip out your heart and show it to you. No, that would be too easy, and that would also bring with it the sweet release of death. We’re not that lucky.

No, what the Falcons do is infinitely worse. They present you with a vision of your heart’s desire — that Super Bowl ring, that aura of legitimacy, the gleaming veneer of elite-tier status in the NFL — and then they smash that desire like crystal on stone. And they stare at you, and they watch your soul shrivel just a little bit more, and they dare you to walk away.

Here’s a fun little trivia fact for you: the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys were a few seconds away from combining for a scorigami — that is, a score that had never before been recorded in NFL history. Atlanta was about to win 39-37, the first time that would have ever happened. A landmark! A tiny one, yes, but a landmark all the same!

Turns out Atlanta was just priming us all for an even more historic moment. Until Sunday, according to ESPN, 440 teams had scored 39 points without turning the ball over. All 440 had won.

Until Sunday.

That’s Atlanta, summed up. They find an unblazed trail, a bit of undiscovered territory they can call their own … and then they veer right away from it to plunge right off a cliff. Why do you think the team’s slogan is “Rise Up”? It’s not just motivation, it’s a weekly item on the to-do list.

Anyway, Atlanta draws the Bears at home next week. I will sigh, I will grit my teeth, and I will watch once again to see what unthinkable perversion of the game of football they’ll inflict. If they win — and they are favored — I’ll sit back and wait another week for the gut-punch. Eventually, it’ll come. In Atlanta, it always does.


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips, story ideas and other things to do with his time on Sundays at

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