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Atlanta Falcons' memorable season overshadowed by loss

HOUSTON -- It has been 22 years since an Atlanta-based sports team brought home a championship title. The Falcons held a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI and looked as if they would soon end the drought.

However, it became a story of "what could have been" as the Patriots gained momentum late in the quarter, leading to a 34-28 overtime victory against the Falcons at NRG Stadium. Quarterback Tom Brady, appearing in his seventh Super Bowl, led his offense to 31 consecutive points in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Throughout the season, the Falcons have relied heavily on the concept of brotherhood. In the midst of their loss, the focus remained on one another, as individual accomplishments were pushed aside. Not being able to bring the title back to Atlanta caused the same plays that were considered game-changers to quickly lose significance.

The Falcons' defense made key plays early. Cornerback Robert Alford recovered a fumble at the start of the second quarter, and later picked off Brady and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown. However, with the loss, the cornerback doesn't feel he did his part.

"An interception is not why I came in this game to fulfill," Alford said. "I came to this game to fulfill bringing that trophy back to Atlanta. I feel like I let those guys short."

Falcons' defensive tackle Grady Jarrett tied a Super Bowl record with his three sacks of Brady, matching his total from the regular season. But he was hoping to leave Houston with more than just a record.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't awesome. It felt good, but at the end of the day, I wanted the win more than anything -- for myself, for my team, for my city," Jarrett said.

One of the most discussed plays was a catch by Julio Jones late in the fourth quarter, which gave the Falcons a burst of confidence in the midst of their slipping lead. Matt Ryan threw the ball towards the sideline and in a display of athleticism that has become routine only to him, Jones dove to grab it while managing to keep both feet in bounds.

The iconic catch put the Falcons in field goal position, giving them the opportunity to take an 11-point lead against the Patriots with under four minutes to play. But the drive stalled with a sack and a holding penalty, forcing the Falcons to punt and adding fuel to a Patriots offense already on fire.

While his acrobatic catch will become an afterthought, Jones said the overtime loss has not overshadowed how much it took for the Falcons to get to this point.

"We came this far as brothers and we gave blood, sweat and tears throughout the year," Jones said. "We had a great year and to come up short like that, it hurts. At the same time, what DQ (coach Dan Quinn) said, 'It just does nothing but bring us closer.'"

The ideas of closeness and brotherhood remained strong among the Falcons after the game. Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said they plan to carry those themes with them into the offseason and the start of another title pursuit.

"You just stay together, man, not pointing any fingers and things like that," Gabriel said. "Just staying together as a unit, as a group, and just backing each other for these next few months and I'm already ready to get back on the field and get back to it."

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