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Ranking the seven biggest collapses in NFL history

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Choke artists. Authors of collapse. Innovators of implosion.

Call them whatever you want. Atlanta's heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl LI is all the more bitter because of the course it took: Forging a 28-3 lead well into the third quarter, the ill-fated Falcons found a way to let it all slip away.

For anyone associated with the team, it's the loneliest place in the world. Your phone stops ringing, every television is locked on Tom Brady doused in confetti and the painful question lingers: Will we ever get back there again?

It's no solace to Falcons fans, but the truth is this: You aren't alone.

Teams before you have crumbled and fallen -- and we're here to prove it.

Here's a look at the seven wildest collapses in NFL history:

7) AFC Wild Card Round, January 5, 2003: Steelers 36, Browns 33

Minutes into the third quarter of this playoff bout between two bitter foes, the underdog Browns found themselves up 24-7 and sniffing their first road playoff win since 1969.

Enter Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox, the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, who guided Pittsburgh to three touchdown drives over the final quarter and helped the team overcome a 33-21 deficit with just over 10 minutes left. Browns fans still wince at the sight of receiver Dennis Northcutt dropping a third-down pass from Kelly Holcomb that likely would have put the game away late in the fourth.

"I ran a good route, I got open and I dropped it, plain and simple." Northcutt said.

Cleveland has not appeared in the playoffs since.

6) November 27, 1994: Dolphins 28, Jets 24

A wild affair that shattered New York's season and gave us the most memorable touchdown strike of Dan Marino's career. Helping the Dolphins rebound from a 24-6 deficit, Marino threw for 227 yards and three scores over his final four possessions. What everyone remembers, though, is Miami's final play.

Trailing 24-21 with less than 30 seconds left, Marino furiously called for a spike at New York's 8-yard line to set up a game-tying field goal. With the Jets asleep at the wheel, Marino pretended like he was going to spike the ball before unfurling an 8-yard touchdown strike to Mark Ingram for the win.

"I enjoy talking about it, but never with Jets fans," Dolphins coach Don Shula told ESPN. "I don't talk to Jets fans in South Florida. Or in New York. Or in the United States."

5) NFC Wild Card Round, January 5, 2003: 49ers 39, Giants 38

Predicted to finish in the basement of the NFC East, the Kerry Collins-led Giants soared into the playoffs white-hot and dominated the 49ers out of the gate, building a 38-14 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter. Big Blue went corpse-cold from there, as Jeff Garcia's Niners ripped off 25 unanswered points to take a 39-38 lead.

With a minute remaining, Collins drove his stunned Giants into position for a potential game-winning, 40-yard field goal. Long-snapper Trey Junkin, signed days earlier, botched the snap, forcing holder Matt Allen to fire a pass to eligible lineman Rich Seubert, who was pulled to the ground by 49ers end Chike Okeafor.

Flags flew -- many expected pass interference -- but the zebras called New York for an ineligible receiver downfield, ending the game in a blaze of controversy.

4) AFC Wild Card Round, January 4, 2014: Colts 45, Chiefs 44

Ridiculed for their low-wattage offense, Alex Smith and the Chiefs marched into Lucas Oil Stadium planning to attack the Colts from the very first snap. It worked, as Smith ripped through Indy's defense for 378 yards -- the second-highest output of his 12-year career. With four touchdowns to match, Smith put Kansas City up 38-10 just minutes into the third quarter.

The Chiefs utterly collapsed from there, squeezing out just two more field goals while the defense laid down against Andrew Luck. Authoring the second-largest comeback in playoff history (28 points), the Colts quarterback lobbed three of his four touchdown passes down the stretch and scored after recovering a Donald Brown fumble. Luck's pristine, 64-yard scoring strike to T.Y. Hilton with 4:21 to go ended up being the game winner.

"It's tough, a tough pill to swallow," Smith said.

3) NFC Championship Game, January 18, 2015: Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (OT)

The Packers have endured their share of ugly playoff collapses, but none like this: Holding a 19-7 lead in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game, Green Bay -- ready to print Super Bowl tickets -- broke into a thousand pieces.

After sleepwalking through the bulk of the game, the Seahawks sprung to life in the final minutes as Russell Wilson ran for a score with 2:09 remaining to make it 19-14. Then fate stepped in, as the ensuing onside kick bounced off the hands of Green Bay's Brandon Bostick into the arms of Seattle's Chris Matthews.

The rest of the game felt like a dark dream for Packers fans: Seattle quickly found the end zone before Aaron Rodgers engineered a game-tying field-goal drive to trigger overtime. It wasn't to be for the Packers, though, as Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown pass to seal Green Bay's awful destiny.

2) AFC Wild Card Round, January 3, 1993: Bills 41, Oilers 38 (OT)

Trailing 28-3 at the break, the Bills looked fully cooked when Jim Kelly's backup, Frank Reich, saw his third pass of the second half blip through the hands of tight end Keith McKeller into the arms of Oilers safety Bubba McDowell, who took it 58 yards to the house for a 35-3 lead.

Instead of crumbling, the magical Reich -- who famously engineered a Maryland win over Miami after trailing 31-0 -- went on to toss four touchdown passes over the next 28 minutes before Buffalo's Steve Christie buried Houston with a game-winning field goal in overtime.

Good luck finding a gaggle of fans more beside themselves than the denizens of Rich Stadium on that raucous January afternoon. As for the snake-bitten Oilers, the collapse took its toll: They never won in the playoffs again before drifting away to Tennessee.

1) Super Bowl LI, February 5, 2017: Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT)

Unless you've spent the past month in a subterranean covert-government bunker, you know the story: The Falcons operated as New England's kryptonite for three-plus quarters -- mounting a 28-3 lead over the lifeless Patriots -- until Tom Brady revealed his true identity: Superman.

The only good news for the Falcons -- if any -- is this: You aren't alone. Teams have fumbled and faltered before and let sizable leads slip away. You aren't the first and you won't be the last.

We understand that's hardly comforting to the wounded city of Atlanta.

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