ATLANTA — Tom Brady has moved on to win a seventh championship at Tampa Bay.
Only a handful of Atlanta players remain from that fateful night in Houston.
Yet memories of the greatest comeback — and flop — in Super Bowl history still linger, especially when the Falcons are facing the New England Patriots.
The teams meet Thursday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, exactly 1,747 days since the Brady-led Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime at the 51st Super Bowl.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, one of only a handful of players left from the team that couldn’t hold a 25-point lead, said he’s long since put that miserable evening in the rearview mirror.
“I’m not worried about what happened in the winter of 2017,” he said. “You can’t go back and win that game.”
Brady captured one more championship with the Patriots — at a Super Bowl played in Atlanta, no less — before signing in 2020 with the Buccaneers, who face the Falcons twice a year as a divisional rival.
Rubbing a bit more salt in the wound, Brady has won three more games against Atlanta with his new team.
None of that matters to Ryan, who is more concerned about these Falcons (4-5) and how poorly he played in an ugly 43-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.
Nothing that happens Thursday night will have any impact on that Super Bowl from five seasons ago.
“You have to move on from it and try to do everything we can to get ourselves back to .500,” Ryan said. “I really don’t think it exorcises any demons or anything like that. That game is over and has been played.”
After missing the playoffs last season, the Patriots finally seem to have found their footing in the post-Brady era behind rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
New England (6-4) is one of the league’s hottest teams, winning four straight games and five of the past six. The Patriots are coming off their most impressive showing of the season, a 45-7 rout of the Cleveland Browns.
Just 10 games into his career, Jones has already established himself as a leader in the Patriots locker room.
“I think that just happens naturally,” he said. “Really good leaders, they’re themselves. They don’t try to be somebody else. They just do what they are supposed to do, and they do it to the best of their ability.”
Coming off the lowest-rated game of his 14-year career, Ryan must find a way to get his wideouts more involved in the offense.
They were basically invisible in the Dallas debacle, combining for just 36 yards on four catches.
Tight end Kyle Pitts is a huge weapon, but the Falcons have major problems at the receiver position after trading Julio Jones and losing his heir apparent, Calvin Ridley, who will miss his fourth straight game while dealing with mental health issues.
Against Dallas, the Falcons trailed 36-3 at halftime. They went on to take their worst loss since 2004.
“We’re still 4-5,” said Ryan, who was 9 of 21 passing for just 117 yards with two interceptions. “I’ve been in worst situations, for sure. Obviously, it was an ugly game, but it was just one.”
The Patriots have held two straight opponents under 100 yards rushing, and they’ll be looking to extend that streak against an Atlanta team that has struggled to run the ball.
The Falcons are averaging 82.9 yards per game on the ground, 29th in the NFL.
Compounding their problems, top running back Cordarrelle Patterson — who won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2018 — could miss the game because of an ankle injury.
“They’re missing some good players,” New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower said, “but they have some guys on their roster that I’m sure are ready to step up.”
HAPPY TO BE BACK
Patriots right tackle Trent Brown’s return last weekend was bittersweet.
Not only was it his first game back from a calf injury in the season opener that put him on injured reserve, it was against a Cleveland team he was about to face last November when he “almost died.”
Playing for the Raiders, Brown was going through his normal pregame routine, including getting some extra fluid via an IV. That’s when air was accidentally injected into his bloodstream, nearly sending him into cardiac arrest.
He spent three days in the hospital, took about eight months to fully recover, and even contemplated retirement.
“It was scary,” Brown said. “I definitely thought about my kids.”
Now that he’s back from the calf injury, the Patriots are nearly at full strength on the offensive line for the first time since their opener.
ONE MORE THING ABOUT THAT GAME
The Patriots have only 12 players on their roster who were part of their historic Super Bowl win over the Falcons.
Linebacker Matt Judon wasn’t one of them, having just finished his rookie season in Baltimore. But he said he remembers watching from afar.
“That screenshot (showing Atlanta ahead 28-3) and then Brady’s head down. And they came back and won,” Judon said. “That’s what this team is about — it’s resilient. Never dying. Never say never. It ain’t over until it is.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report.
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