If it feels like the Atlanta Falcons are cursed, it's because they probably are. Ever since they blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons have remained under whatever magical spell Tom Brady conjured up late in the third quarter during that fateful evening in Houston. They couldn't close out the win then and they can't now. No matter how big the lead or how insurmountable the obstacles for the opponent, Atlanta always finds a way to blow it.
At this point, it's clear that in order to move forward, to break whatever jinx hovers over them in the second half of games, the Falcons need to start fresh with a totally new core group. As today's last-second loss to the Detroit Lions proves (the Lions marched 75 yards in 1:04 and scored the game-winning TD with no time on the clock after Falcons running back Todd Gurley accidentally scored a TD that gave the Lions a chance to mount that comeback in the first place), that means more than just firing former head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. It means erasing all connections to 28-3. It means trading away Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
It was easy to blame Quinn after the Falcons blew a 17-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining in their game against the Dallas Cowboys, which included a failed recovery on an onside kick. It was easy to make Quinn the scapegoat for all of the Falcons' issues over the last three seasons. But he's gone now. There's no blaming him anymore. His slate is clean. Yet the Falcons keep falling apart late in games.
Why? No one can say for sure. Not even Ryan and Jones, the two remaining links to that 2016 team. But it's clear there's an ominous feeling around the Falcons late in games. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy if you want. But Atlanta could be up 70-0 and its opponent would probably think it could come back and win the game. The Falcons probably think that too. They might not be wrong.
The only way to erase that feeling of inevitability is for any connection to 28-3 to be moved away. Whether it's fair or not, as long as Ryan is the quarterback, the current Falcons will be connected to the past Falcons. The same is true of Jones. That's not what the Falcons want. In fact, they can't have it. They're bringing in a new coach and GM this offseason, but to truly exorcise their demons, they can't have any bad mojo remaining.
That's hard to imagine. Ryan and Jones have been the faces of the franchise for the last decade. They're still talented and productive. It's not their fault alone that the Falcons keep blowing late leads. But they are the lone connective tissue (outside of owner Arthur Blank) to 28-3. That tissue needs to be severed, no matter how hard that may be for Falcons fans to admit. It's best for the players and the franchise. It's a win-win.
The Falcons are at least two years away from competing again, including the rest of this season. Why keep Jones and Ryan when you can get something of value for them now? Why hold back two players who deserve a chance to compete in the twilight of their career?
Wait another year, and their value decreases. Wait two more years and Ryan will be a free agent and Jones will be in the last year of his contract. The time to act is now. The time to get maximum return is now. Give the new GM as many draft picks as you can. Let him and the new coach rebuild the team how they want. That means a new quarterback and new offensive and defensive strategies. It means a new identity, which won't include blowing late leads.
That alone should make Falcons fans ready to move on from two of the franchise's all-time greats.