Patriots celebrate, Falcons grieve after classic meeting

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HOUSTON -- To get to the Patriots' locker room, you had to walk by the Falcons' first.

That's where I saw Falcons owner Arthur Blank step out from behind the double doors and meet a woman and young child, the boy reduced to tears after the Falcons blew the biggest Super Bowl lead in NFL history in a 34-28 overtime loss to the Patriots.

Blank hugged and consoled the sobbing boy. That unmistakable disappointment was all around the home locker room at NRG Stadium. Falcons stars Matt Ryan, Dwight Freeney and Devonta Freeman were all seen on the backs of golf carts with the same look of, "Wait, did that really just happen?" etched onto their faces. This was an all-time stomach punch.

Things were obviously much, much different in the Patriots locker room. There was the mystery of Tom Brady's stolen game jersey, of course, but life was otherwise ideal. Players took turns holding the smudged-up Lombardi Trophy as team photographers snapped away for the sake of posterity.

"Pass it around!" one player shouted. "Who wants next?" said another. This was a proud moment for the players, and you didn't get the sense they were necessarily shocked that they had just won the Super Bowl despite that troublesome 28-3 third-quarter deficit.

Such is the nature of life on Patriot Way. A blessed existence where you expect good things to happen, and they usually do.

Danny Amendola greeted Chris Hogan with "What's up, champ?" Hogan replied with, "Oh, I like that! I like that!" Brady, meanwhile, was cutting off the tape wrapped around the top of his giant red cleats as a parade of teammates came by to pay respects to The Don. He was the center of this locker room and this franchise, even if he was stationed in the corner near the front door. A teammate hugged him and Brady replied, "Never a doubt." That prompted the quick response, "As long as we have Tom Brady."

A team employee handed Brady a bottle of one of his magic liquid elixirs, a light brown sludge that allows you to throw for 466 yards in the Super Bowl six months before you turn 40.

Brady excused himself to shower up and Patrick Chung walked by with a cigar in one hand and the Lombardi in the other.

I exited the Pats celebration and started making my way back to the press box. That's when I saw Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff conversing in front of those same double doors Blank popped out of 45 minutes earlier. The Falcons head coach and general manager headed for the bus that would take them to what will be the longest plane ride of their lives. This game will go down in history, and for everyone attached to the Falcons, it will be for the wrong reasons.

Yes, there were two very different stories on this Sunday night. It's still hard to believe who ended up with the short end of the stick.

Don't miss: Live coverage of the Patriots' Super Bowl LI victory parade starts at 7 a.m. ET Tuesday on NFL Network.

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