(Reuters) - The Atlanta Falcons were left to wonder what might have been and what will be of their future in the aftermath of their Super Bowl collapse on Sunday.
Atlanta's 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots was a study in improbability for a talented NFC team that looked destined to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
When the Falcons entered the fourth quarter with a 28-9 advantage, it looked to be the start of an exciting future for the franchise which finds itself at a crossroads instead.
"There is never going to be a way to get over the loss," Falcons coach Dan Quinn told reporters. "The guy battled as hard as they can." A collection of small miscues added up to the colossal defeat in the end for Atlanta.
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Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady converted a fourth-down play that led to a touchdown, New England added a field goal, then the Falcons fumbled to set up another Patriots score and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was sacked to push his team out of field goal range.
In the blink of an eye, New England tallied TDs and two-point conversions before ultimately completing the miracle win in OT.
"There's nothing you can really say," Ryan said. "That's a tough loss. Obviously (we're) very disappointed, very close to getting done what we wanted to get done, but it's hard to find words."
Falcons super fan and actor Samuel L. Jackson summed it up succinctly when he tweeted: "The agony of defeat...see ya next season."
Atlanta now attempts to shift their focus to next season and shaping a roster that can defend their NFC title.
Several free agents loom for the franchise, and running back Devonta Freeman plans to renegotiate what would be the final season of his rookie contract.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli attended the college all star Senior Bowl in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, already keeping an eye on future talent.
"It’s vital," Dimitroff said. "You continue to have an open mind and you’re willing to go out into the market and grab someone that is ideal for your team." Personnel aside, the Falcons future prospects might depend on how they recover from their epic defeat.
"What (this loss) does have is some of that toughness that you have to go through,” Quinn said. “It does make you stronger."
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)