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This alternate ending to Pats-Falcons Super Bowl is still drama-filled

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The Atlanta Falcons will have to confront their past Thursday night.

The Falcons will host the Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 11, facing New England for just the second time since their historic collapse to Bill Belichick's team in Super Bowl LI.

We all know how that played out: The Patriots trailed 28-3 late in the third quarter before mounting the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to win 34-28 in overtime.

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Falcons fans can second-guess plenty of decisions from that historic collapse, most notably Atlanta's decision to pass on third-and-1 while leading 28-12 with 8:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. That decision resulted in Dont'a Hightower strip-sacking quarterback Matt Ryan, which led to a New England touchdown five minutes later that made it a one-score game.

But what if the Falcons had just run the ball on third-and-1? Would they have picked up the first down and cruised to an easy victory?

Our partners at Strat-O-Matic wanted to find out, so they used their powerful simulation software to play out the rest of Super Bowl LI if Ryan had handed the ball off to running back Tevin Coleman on that play instead of dropping back to pass.

The first result shouldn't surprise you: Coleman picks up 15 yards for a Falcons first down in this simulation. Three plays later, though, the Patriots force an Atlanta punt.

That's when Tom Brady begins to work his fourth-quarter magic: The Patriots QB leads his team on a 95-yard drive that results in a 31-yard touchdown strike to Julian Edelman with 2:25 on the clock. After a successful two-point attempt, New England trails 28-20 with all three timeouts remaining.

 

The Patriots elect to kick it deep instead of attempting an onside kick, though, and the deciding play is a 7-yard run by Falcons running back Devonta Freeman on third-and-7 to pick up an Atlanta first down with 1:51 to go after New England just burned its final timeout.

Brady gets the ball back with three seconds left, but there are no miracles in this simulation, which ends on a 19-yard completion to Danny Amendola that allows the Falcons to escape with a 28-20 victory.

Check out the graphic below for the full play-by-play following Coleman's 15-yard run.

Simulation Station Super Bowl LI
Strat-O-Matic
Full simulation of the final 28 plays of Super Bowl LI.

It's pretty impressive that New England still almost came back to win in this alternate reality despite avoiding Hightower's game-changing strip sack. The lesson here is clear, though: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan definitely should have called a run play on third-and-1.

Patriots fans are glad he didn't, and they'll have another opportunity to gloat Thursday night as New England (6-4) takes on Atlanta (4-5).