Matt Ryan didn’t want to go there. Nor did he need to.
There, in this case being Houston on the first Sunday of February in 2017, when his Falcons owned a seemingly insurmountable yet ultimately unsustainable lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Screenshots of the FOX television graphic just shy of the third quarter’s 2-minute mark captured the score in perpetuity. Shared by thousands and viewed by millions via memes, it’s still printed and sold on t-shirts and flags.
All constant reminders of a night none of us can forget. But one that, understandably, Ryan cares not to remember.
“I’m not worried about what happened in the winter of 2017,” he said on Monday, at the start of a short week of preparation for Thursday night’s encounter with the Patriots. “You can’t go back and win that game.”
Ryan is one of only a handful of players from that game still in Atlanta. None of the five Falcons who scored the touchdowns and extra points that built “28-3” remain with the team.
Ryan and left tackle Jake Matthews are the lone current Falcons who started Super Bowl LI on offense. Only Grady Jarrett, who sacked Tom Brady three times, and Deion Jones are still with the team after starting LI on defense.
Along the same lines, with James White on injured reserve, none of the players who scored the 34 points needed to complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history are active for the Patriots.
And while the current Pats (6-4) won their fourth straight over the Browns last Sunday, the mostly unfamiliar Falcons were throttled in Dallas, 43-3, to fall to 4-5 under a first-year head coach and general manager. The thrashing by the Cowboys prevented Atlanta from rising above .500 for the first times since the end of the 2017 season.
Those Falcons were beaten in the NFC Divisional playoffs at Philadelphia. The franchise has gone 22-35 since the start of the following fall, transitioning from Dan Quinn to Arthur Smith on the sideline and from Thomas Dimitroff to Terry Fontenot in the front office.
Still, there is relevance to revisiting a past meeting of the Pats and Falcons, despite their vastly different lineups playing, in Atlanta’s case, very different schemes. It’s just not the game we — if not Ryan — tend to talk about most.