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tara sullivan

A Patriots-Falcons matchup means only one thing: constant reminders of ‘28-3’

Patriots fans are only too happy to remind the Falcons about what happened in Super Bowl LI.Mary Schwalm

It’s the NFL meme that will never go away.

And that’s just fine with Patriots fans.

With the Patriots packing their bags for Atlanta and a Thursday night matchup with the Falcons, here comes the memory of 28-3.

It is rightfully resurrected, a call-back to one of the franchise’s most memorable moments. And as if a rematch of Super Bowl LI weren’t reason enough to revisit the historic comeback and the score that will live in fame (or infamy, if you have the misfortune of being from Atlanta), last Sunday’s NFL action brought it to life down in Dallas.

At one point in the second quarter of a blowout win over the Falcons, the Cowboys, scoring a touchdown on a third straight possession, took a 28-3 lead.


Even the Falcons felt it, sending out a tweet from the team’s official account that said simply, “Yeah, yeah. We know.”

Unlike the Super Bowl, when Atlanta blew that sizable advantage, Dallas steamrolled to a 43-3 win. And then, as if fate hadn’t brought up enough 28-3 reminders, the Cowboys handed the game ball to their defensive coordinator, none other than Dan Quinn. Quinn was the Falcons head coach who ended up on the wrong side of the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.

And now the Falcons get the Patriots, get to stare in the face of a team that dressed them down in front of the football world, to be reminded of just how close they were to winning a title, only to have the Patriots snatch it away.

Tom Brady celebrates after the Super Bowl LI win over the Falcons.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Of course, much has changed since then, and not only with the departure of Quinn from the Falcons, replaced this year by former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

Tom Brady and his 232 fourth-quarter/overtime passing yards has moved on to Tampa Bay to torture new teams on the way to a championship. James White and his game-winning overtime touchdown is on injured reserve. Julian Edelman and his gravity-defying reception is retired. Danny Amendola and his crucial 2-point conversion is in Houston. Atlanta, a loser in the divisional round the following season, hasn’t been back to the playoffs since.


No wonder Bill Belichick said of these Falcons, “This is a team we don’t know very much about.”

That was the coach after the Patriots’ blowout of the Browns Sunday, a fourth straight win that had already done its part in sending the hype train into overdrive. Belichick knew there wasn’t going to be time to celebrate, not with the quick turnaround against a team he hasn’t faced since October of 2017. The Patriots won that rematch, too, 23-7.

Yet some of the characters are still around. There’s Belichick, of course, but also Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. The former Boston College star had a rough outing against Dallas and was pulled late in the game. Though he statistically is one of his generation’s most prolific passers, Ryan’s inability to win a title has haunted him. And now the Patriots are here to remind him why: 28-3.

Back before that 2017 regular-season rematch, when USA Today asked him how much he hears about 28-3, Ryan acknowledged, “More than I care to.”

“That’s become a popular thing to just yell at me randomly,” Ryan added. “I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I get it.’ ”

Matt Ryan still remembers Super Bowl LI.Curtis Compton/Associated Press

Really, there is no escape, especially in this age of social media. There was Brady at the start of this season, posting an Instagram video after his Buccaneers opened with a win over Dallas, and Internet sleuths were convinced he was trolling the Falcons because a clock in the background read 3:28.


Here was the City of Boston official Twitter account turning March 28 into an annual holiday, posting on what is now known as “Falcons Day,” that they “hope everyone is having a great 3-28 #Patriots.”

There was the airline JetBlue getting into the fun when the Patriots won the AFC championship in the 2018 season, advancing to yet another Super Bowl, this one to be played in … Atlanta. The airline announced it had added flights for the big game, tweeting, “More than 3. Fewer than 28.”

Or here was Edelman, sharing a video of himself editing the final draft of his second children’s book with the announcement that its release was 28 hours and three minutes away. Or here he was again, commenting on a cold New England winter’s day that the temperature was “28 feels like 3.”

And of course there’s team owner Robert Kraft, whose insistence on including 283 diamonds on the team’s championship rings made them the blingiest, and heaviest, in league history.

The city of Atlanta got a recent championship boost from baseball, but not even the glow of their World Series-winning Braves can erase the shadow of 28-3. That’s how much the Falcons led by with 8:31 left in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. No team had ever erased more than a 10-point deficit in the title game, never mind 25 points in less than 23 minutes. From history to cottage industry, 28-3 lives on.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.