Blowing a 25-point lead in an 18-minute span requires at least some stupid, so we’ve got plenty to discuss coming out of Super Bowl LI.

The Atlanta Falcons offense is featured in the year’s final edition of This Weekend in NFL Stupid.

Abysmal play-calling — Part 1

There was little reason for the Falcons to panic after the New England Patriots scored to cut Atlanta’s lead to 28-9. New England missed the bloody extra point and botched the ensuing onside kick, giving the Falcons the ball at the Patriots 41-yard line with just 17:05 remaining in the game.

Just KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and you’re going to win the damn Super Bowl.

KISS they did not, and it started with Atlanta ditching the running game on that final possession of the third quarter.

Ryan started the drive with a nine-yard completion to tight end Austin Hooper, but then left tackle Jake Matthews committed a blatant hold on a Tevin Coleman run. That was stupid, as was their decision to throw from shotgun on 2nd-and-11 after the penalty. Just give it to Coleman or Devonta Freeman to get some of those yards back. Two decent runs and you move into the fourth quarter with a first down or in field-goal range.

But instead, Ryan threw an incomplete pass under pressure on second down before taking this sack on third down:

You’ll notice that there’s nobody underneath for Ryan. This is a 3rd-and-long when you’re better off being safe than sorry, and you’ve got two of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. What the hell kind of play call is that?

Was Dont’a Hightower wearing an invisibility cloak?

How else do you explain this, Devonta Freeman?

Also deserving some blame beyond that missed blitz pickup: Ryan, who simply had to be more aware, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, because Atlanta had no business throwing the ball on a 3rd-and-1 with a 16-point lead and less than nine minutes to play.

Dude, to that point your running game was averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Again, KISS!

Arrogant, stupid. Both. And it probably cost the Falcons the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Abysmal play-calling — Part 2

Even after all that, the Falcons still had no business losing this game. They got the ball back up by eight and moved into field-goal range with less than five minutes remaining.

Specifically, they had a 1st-and-10 from the Patriots 22-yard line with 4:40 left. All they had to do was hand the ball off on three consecutive plays. Worst case, you kick a field goal from inside 40 yards, where kicker Matt Bryant is almost automatic (he was 28-for-29 inside 50 yards this season). That’d give you an 11-point lead with just a couple minutes remaining. Game over, unless New England starts recovering onside kicks.

Instead, after Freeman took a one-yard loss on first down, Shanahan again ditched the running game.

Everyone in the stadium knew it too, which is why Ryan was sacked on 2nd-and-11. And while he never should have been throwing there, he had a chance to register the pressure, move out of the pocket and throw it away. Ryan again deserves blame for a lack of awareness here:

But they were still within field-goal range after the sack. All they had to do was run something safe for a few yards, take 40 more seconds off the clock (or force New England to use another timeout) and have Bryant attempt a kick from inside 50 yards to essentially put the game away.

Instead, they ran another passing play. And Matthews was flagged yet again for a blatant hold. Out of field-goal range. Clock stops. Another gift to the Patriots.

When all you have to do is play it safe and you’ll likely win the Super Bowl, how the hell do you wind up in a 3rd-and-33?

They’d punt, and the rest is history. The fifth-largest choke job of all time, and the largest in the Super Bowl by a huge margin. A lot of that falls on Shanahan, and Ryan, Matthews and Freeman deserve plenty of blame as well. It was a team effort, proving one last time this season that stupidity is contagious.

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at CBSSports.com, Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.

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