At this point, you’d think the Falcons have plumbed every possible miserable, agonizing, heartbreaking, soul-deadening way to lose a football game.
And you would, of course, be wrong.
Atlanta fell to Detroit on Sunday in what was, against all expectations, one of the most entertaining final 90 seconds of the season. And they lost because ... they scored a touchdown.
Let’s explain. With just over a minute remaining and down 16-14, Atlanta had worked its way down to the Detroit 10-yard line. Detroit had just called its final timeout, meaning all Atlanta had to do was run the clock down to its bare minimum, kick a winning field goal, and trot off into the night with a second straight victory.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Todd Gurley burst his way through the Detroit defensive line, with nothing between him and the end zone but open turf. He remembered, just a micro-second too late, that he needed to stop rather than score, and fell to the ground ... but not before the ball crossed the plane of the end zone.
The Lions celebrating the touchdown just adds to the surreal nature of the whole play, doesn’t it?
The play was an echo of one that happened just one day before, when Penn State scored earlier than it intended to ... and ended up losing as well.
When you don't mean to score a touchdown 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/64n8sTNRE5
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 24, 2020
After what was surely the most painful touchdown of Gurley’s career, the Falcons notched the two-point conversion to go up six points.
But that left Matthew Stafford, one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, 65 seconds to work some magic. And take nothing away from Stafford: he was simply brilliant on the Lions’ final drive, orchestrating a 75-yard masterpiece capped off with a 29-yard pass to Kenny Golladay to the Atlanta 11.
One play later, Stafford found T.J. Hockenson in the end zone, then Matt Prater hit a penalty-saddled 40-yard extra point for the victory.
The Falcons are as broken as you can be at this point. Their fans must surely be beyond pain anymore. And the rest of the league looks southward and just cringes.
But let’s take just a moment to see if we can let Gurley off the hook. For starters, even though he was told to stay out of the end zone, when you get in the heart of a scrum, instinct takes over. The guy’s spent his entire college and professional career running for daylight; surely it takes everything he has to go against his hardwired instinct to score.
More to the point: yes, a Gurley knee certainly would have helped Atlanta win the game. But let’s be honest here: if the Atlanta defense can’t keep a team like the Detroit Lions out of the end zone for 65 seconds with no timeouts, well, that’s a much more serious problem than a running back who scores too much.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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