By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Recent history dictated that the Falcons would not only survive the dreaded "Super Bowl hangover," but win at least 10 games and find themselves right back in the playoff mix. After a strong start to 2017, those three words are suddenly being uttered again.
Some corners of the national sports media had the Falcons already over the potential hangover after Week 2. It sure looked like it after the defending NFC champions rolled over the Packers 34-23. Frequent 98.5 The Sports Hub guest Albert Breer declared the hangover nonexistent, and he was not the only one.
Now, the Falcons have lost two straight games at home to AFC East opponents, most recently blowing a 17-point lead to lose 20-17 to the Dolphins and quarterback Jay Cutler. It was the kind of loss that had the media once again bringing back the H-word.
The collapse against the Dolphins wasn't new, either; the Falcons have been outscored 72-40 in the second half so far this season.
Blame the media all you want for bringing up 28-3 in the Falcons' postgame pressers, but they simply can't deny the facts of their situation. They haven't been able to properly close games consistently, and it's impossible not to hearken back to their historic Super Bowl failure.
Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley admitted that he hasn't been able to avoid the endless 28-3 memes on social media - something that's only escapable if you get off social media altogether.
"You looked at social media and you saw all that 28-3, you were like, 'Dang, man,'" Beasley told ESPN on Monday. "You're like, 'Shoot; we almost had it.' But, hey, what can you do about it now? The Patriots did it. A couple of weeks after the game, 28-3, I saw it a lot. They were making memes of all kind of stuff."
Other Falcons have been more adamant that they have put the loss behind them. Safety Ricardo Allen gave a simple "Hell no" when asked if 28-3 still bothered him. Head coach Dan Quinn, meanwhile, tried his best to keep the focus on Sunday's Super Bowl rematch than that game from back in February.
"You can't replay the game that was played in the Super Bowl, what we can do is control what we have now. For that one, it was a historic game. One that we didn't get done," Quinn said, via WXIA-TV in Atlanta. "We don't look back to that one every time we're ahead, or when we're behind in any of that way. Our focus is 100 percent on now and who we are."
Still, Quinn sounded a bit befuddled as to how to get the Falcons to close out games the way they should.
"For us to be the team we know we can be, we've got to play more consistently for the whole time," Quinn said. "It totally bums you out. You try and find what was the cause of not being able to finish like we wanted. And that's what we'll do."
Perhaps the Patriots defense is exactly what Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense need to get back on track after a couple of down weeks. The Pats are still allowing the third-highest passer rating in the NFL (104.4) through six weeks, as well as the most passing yards per game (324.8). They had a decent day in New Jersey on Sunday, but a rough start put them in an early 14-0 hole and that's something they'll want to avoid against an offense as explosive as Atlanta's. After watching Josh McCown carve up the Patriots for 354 yards, it's hard to imagine that the Falcons can't light them up for more big plays down the field.
The Falcons are still rolling into Foxboro in an extremely difficult spot, one that will test their mental toughness unlike most regular season games in their history. The pressure is on to slay their Super Bowl demons, and they will have to do it on the road coming off a blown three-possession lead at home, after fielding Super Bowl questions all week. But if the Falcons have any championship mettle in them, they will at the very least deliver a competitive, full-game effort in Foxboro. They will still be a great litmus test for the Patriots defense in the game, but if the time comes that they need to protect a second-half lead ... get the popcorn ready.
It's still a bit early to use the word "hangover" with the Falcons. But if they can't at least show up and compete on Sunday - for all 60 minutes - the "28-3" talk won't be going anywhere.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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