The Falcons are going to have a painful, regret-filled offseason, one year after what, by the numbers, was the most painful, regret-filled offseason of the NFL’s Super Bowl era.

They didn’t cough up a 25-point third-quarter lead Saturday night in Philadelphia, but in exiting the NFC playoffs 15-10, they left so many chances on the field, their players and coaches could hardly keep up with them all. For nearly the entire game, the home-standing, top-seeded Eagles were trying to give the Falcons a win, and the Falcons stubbornly refused to take it.

They had spent 11 1/2 months trying to get back to where they were last February against the Patriots. They’re back at Square 1, if not behind that.

The fourth-down miss in the end zone from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones with 58 seconds left was only the final nail. It took up much of the post-game conversation because, as many of them admitted, Matty Ice-to-Julio is something they’d take as a game-winning attempt 100 times out of 100. “That’s a play we practice all the time; in those situations you want to go to your best players,’’ Ryan said.

It went wrong, though, just like moment after moment went against the Falcons.
Moments such as the shovel pass the tried on second-and-goal, two plays earlier. Nothing about it made sense at the time or afterward. The Eagles never let it develop. It failed spectacularly.

“The missed-chances and the almosts,’’ is how head coach Dan Quinn described them all. It was a long list, extending back to early in the game, and each played into the other.

Including that last one. The Falcons had first-and-goal at the Eagles’ 9-yard line with 1:19 on the clock, two timeouts left — just one left for the Eagles — and ended up making a mess of most of that series. It ended with the fourth-down play in which Jones slipped (or was pushed), got up, then couldn’t hold Ryan’s desperate throw.

Whether a sprint-out by Ryan that all but cut the field and opportunities in half was the best choice, will eat the Falcons up for a while. Ryan, Quinn, Jones, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian have to live with it all.

Yet … had the Falcons not botched a handful of plays at the end of the first half, they could have made that last series easier by setting up for a game-winning, chip-shot field goal by their ageless machine of a kicker, Matt Bryant.

That was the Keanu Neal-Torrey Smith-Alshon Jeffery sequence in the final 22 seconds of the half. If Keanu Neal catches arguably the worst pass Nick Foles threw all day, right at him, instead of letting it ricochet off his knee to Smith, then the Falcons are not in position to give up a too-easy 15-yard Jeffery catch to stop the clock with one second left and gift-wrap Jake Elliott’s field goal.

Sure, the rest of the game plays out differently if the score is different, but pretending a swing like that doesn’t bite you somewhere in the end is foolish. If nothing else, Foles was way off most of the first half. With that break from Neal and those points to close the half — plus, clearly, a smart offensive game plan by head coach Doug Pederson — Foles managed the second half to near-perfection.

The Eagles defense managed the Falcons offense in the second half just as perfectly, shutting them out and opening the way for the offense to straighten itself out. They took advantage of every miscue and gave Foles chances over and over, to either score or control the clock.

Yet the Falcons still kept helping them.
When the Eagles took the lead 12-10 late in the third quarter, they followed by kicking off out of bounds. Perfect situation for the Falcons at their own 40 — and on the final play of the quarter, Devonta Freeman whiffed on a blitz pickup and let Ryan get dropped for a 10-yard loss.
It led to a three-and-out. That in turn led to a punishing, physically dominant eight-minute, 14-play field-goal drive, featuring a third down catch-and-run by Jay Ajayi for 32 yards.

It was almost like payback for all the chances the Falcons had had to take and hold a lead or to slow or stop the Eagles, but let get away.
The Falcons still had a chance to negate it all at the end, even saving themselves by following a Mohamed Sanu catch that was overturned on replay, with a huge fourth-down Jones catch.

They couldn’t finish — something too familiar to them over the past year.
Now, they have a chance to see if this offseason is as miserable, or motivational, or exasperating, as the last one