CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Falcons running back Devonta Freeman does notplan to watch a replay of Super Bowl 51.
There’s no need.
"I’ve got a good memory. I still remember everything that went down,” Freeman told Sporting News about Atlanta’s failure to hold a 25-point lead in its34-28 overtime loss to New England.
"I remember the plays. I remember how I felt every time I get on the (practice) field. I blink and it's in my head. I can visualize it and then I get back to reality. It’s weird like that."
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The reality is Atlanta might be NFL champions today had then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan given Freeman more carries to run clock and force New England into using its timeouts. Freeman, who led Atlanta with 1,079 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season, touched the football just twice after the Falcons had taken a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
There also was confusion during one of the game’s key plays when Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower sacked Ryan to force a Falcons turnover. During postgame interviews, Shanahan and Freeman disagreed on whether the latter was responsible for picking up the blitz.
Freeman did notplay the blame game when reminiscing on the Super Bowl collapse, instead describing his general feeling as "a lot of 'wish we would have.'"
"I wish we would have done this. I wish I would have done this,"Freeman said. "You just take that pain and anger and install it back in your body and always remember.
"I’m a young man but I understand what happened in that game. It’s not gray. It’s black and white to me. It’s just one of those things where I knew what was supposed to happen. It’s been a dream for my whole life to make it to the NFL. That (Super Bowl win) was one of my dreams. As you get closer and closer you can feel it. There’s no better feeling than when you accomplish it. You’re so close and then it goes the other way."
Freeman and more than 30 of his teammates began the process of trying to leave the Super Bowl debacle behind this week at players-only workouts sponsored by quarterback Matt Ryan at the University of Miami.
The memories sparked by the locale itself give Freeman even more hunger to succeed.
Already sporting a chip on his shoulder as anundersized back (5-8), Freemanrecalled how he wanted to play for the hometown Hurricanes only to get snubbed for a scholarship offer coming out of Miami Central High School. He attended Florida State instead and played well enough to become theFalcons' fourth-round draft pick in 2014.
Just the fact that Freeman reached college, let alone NFL stardom, is a testament to his work ethic and those supporting mentors who helped him avoid the temptations and pitfalls he avoided while being raised in the rough Liberty City neighborhood 13 miles from the Miami campus. Luther Campbell, the 2 Live Crew rap artist turned youth football coach and community activist, even got Freeman a job at a funeral home as a reminder about what could happen if he strayed.
"I can always drive by my old community where I come from and just reminisce,"Freeman said. "I still see some of the same people there when I was coming up trying to make it out.
"It's a humbling experience and motivation at the same time because I made it and there's still so much more I've got in my career."
The Falcons feel the same way, which is why a lucrative extension for Freeman is likely this offseason. Freeman, 25, is playing on the final year of a rookie contract set to pay him $1.84 million this season.
Despite the injury risk, Freeman listed three reasons why he will participate in Atlanta's offseason program rather than skip the voluntary sessions: Trust in Falcons management, love of football and desire to help his teammates win. Such trust has grown since Falcons coach Dan Quinn introduced the “Brotherhood” mantra into his locker room last year.
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"You can just see it,"said Freeman, referring to the difference in Ryan's second players-only camp compared to its 2016 debut. “Everybody is more relaxed. Nobody takes anything personal when someone says something. It's a level of respect for each other."
Rather than tear the Falcons apart,the New England lossactually has drawn the team closer together,Freeman believes.
"Don’t be surprised if we're back in the Super Bowl,"Freeman said. "As a team, we’re just so tight like that.
"We understand the hard work. We know what it takes to get there."
And now, what it takes to finish, as well.
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