FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Sean Weatherspoon walked through the Atlanta Falcons locker room, shouting out to no one in particular.
”Hey, y’all don’t forget about the good times!” he yelled, managing a big smile.
There were a few chuckles, but it wasn’t enough to change the mood.
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The Falcons are still trying to grasp how they let a Super Bowl championship slip away .
Less than 48 hours after squandering a 25-point lead and losing in overtime to the New England Patriots, the players were back together Tuesday to clean out their lockers and take care of other routine matters before getting started on the offseason.
Of course, this didn’t feel routine at all.
Not with the way the season ended.
”It just felt like it was a dream,” defensive star Vic Beasley said. ”But it’s reality. You’ve just got accept it.”
The Falcons wasted no time addressing one of their biggest issues, hiring Steve Sarkisian as their new offensive coordinator . The former Washington and Southern Cal coach spent only one game as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, calling plays for the Crimson Tide in their national championship loss to Clemson.
Sarkisian replaced Kyle Shanahan , who left on Monday to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Meanwhile, the players filled trash bags with items they no longer needed, signed footballs and helmets for each other, and made plans for getting together in the weeks to come.
Some of them won’t be back next season.
That made this day sting even more.
”It’s hard to say, but it’s over,” kicker Matt Bryant said. ”Now, it’s time to get ready for the next season.”
Even though it was painful, the players went through their normal routine of watching film from their last game, going over the mistakes that allowed the Patriots to rally from a 28-3 deficit in the second half.
New England forced the first overtime in Super Bowl history, won the coin flip, and drove the field for the touchdown that clinched a 34-28 victory.
”We watched the film and kind of got over it, in a sense,” rookie linebacker Deion Jones said. ”All right, now we know what it took to get here. Now we’ve just got to do the same thing next year, get back here, and not have the same outcome.”
Indeed, the Falcons are optimistic they won’t be a one-year wonder like the only other Atlanta team to reach the Super Bowl. The 1998 squad followed up its run to the title game by going 5-11.
With the league’s highest-scoring offense and a youthful defense that counted as many as four rookies and four second-year players among the starters, the Falcons seem poised for long-term success.
”This year was pretty special. Obviously, it didn’t end very well,” Bryant said. ”But we have a good group here. It’s fairly young, and look what we did. To think that we got a whole year under our belt, I guess the next question is: Where’s the next Super Bowl going to be? Let’s get to work.”
With most key players under contract for next season, the Falcons aren’t expecting any major moves. The most immediate issue, according to general manager Thomas Dimitroff, is a long-term contract extension for cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Trufant, the team’s best coverage corner, went down with a season-ending pectoral injury and missed the playoffs, but he’s hopeful of being fully recovered in time for May practices. Dimitroff expects to finalize a new deal ”very soon.”
The general manager also has begun preliminary talks on a new deal for Freeman, who created a bit of a stir early in Super Bowl week by talking about his desire for a contract that would make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid running backs.
”I want to end my career here,” Freeman said. ”I love everything about Atlanta.”
He’ll miss Shanahan, but he’s eager to get started with the new offensive coordinator.
”I’m excited to see who comes in,” Freeman said, just before Sarkisian’s hiring was announced. ”I’m going to do my homework on whoever comes in. I’m going to start working on those plays, the footwork, whatever I need to do.”
There will likely be other coaching moves. Quinn said the Los Angeles Rams had sought permission to interview quarterback coach Matt LaFleur for their offensive coordinator job, which could open up another spot on the Falcons staff.
In the meantime, there’s some healing to do.
The gut-wrenching loss was especially painful to a city that has celebrated only one championship in the four major professional sports – the 1995 World Series-winning Braves.
”I want to personally apologize (to the fans) because we didn’t go all the way,” safety Ricardo Allen said. ”We really needed this for this city. But we appreciate the support, because we know they feel just the way we feel. We’re down, but we will be back up.”
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