You could say the Falcons, as a franchise, got off to a slow start. Having gone the first 44 years of existence without back-to-back winning seasons, it’s hard to argue.
That changed Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa when these much-belittled Birds erased one of the more frustrating footnotes in sports history.
Sleep well, Falcons fans. With Sunday’s 20-10 win over the Bucs, your team finishes at 9-7.
And the players who will be heros in this game are youngsters who really didn’t know much about the team’s lackluster history.
Second-year cornerback Brent Grimes and rookie corner Christopher Owens each picked up interceptions in the fourth quarter. Owens’ setup the game-winning touchdown drive. Grimes pick came in the end zone with less than five minutes to play and gave the Falcons a chance to run out the clock.
And chipping away at that clock was third-year man Jason Snelling, whose 5-foot-11, 229-pound frame seemed deliciously adept at chewing up the turf and running over would-be tacklers.
Subbing for an injured Michael Turner, he finished with a career-high 147 yards after just 16 in the first half.
None were alive for some of the more frustrating years like backing up a playoff appearance in 1980 with a 7-9 mark in ‘81.
But they felt the importance of Sunday’s game and, played up to the challenge. Many times in Falcons history, that wasn’t the case.
“For us to go out and get back-to-back winning seasons is something that we as a football team want to have happen,” Head Coach Mike Smith said. “We want to be a relevant football team year in and year out. That’s what we talked about. When you’re relevant you got to have a winning record and you’ll have an opportunity to be in the discussions for the playoffs. We weren’t in the playoffs but we had a season that gives us nine wins and that’s something that we are very proud of.”
Falcons fans know a thing or two (or a million) about shared pain. Any team coached by Smith knows a thing or two about team work and camaraderie .
For months Smith, his players and coaching staff have preached the importance of team defense.
Sunday the Falcons allowed their first touchdown in 10 quarters but managed to knock the Buccaneers offense out of rhythm the entire game. Tampa Bay held the ball for just 24:31 and rushed for just 38 yards to the Falcons 183.
In fact, Atlanta out-gained the Bucs in yards 397 to 206.
On offense, Matt Ryan threw a pair of interceptions and two touchdowns — one to Roddy White and one to tight end Justin Peelle. The group, like the Falcons franchise, got off to a “slow start,” recording just one first down in the opening quarter but prodded the Bucs defense for weak points.
They found them with the no-huddle offense and a running game designed to punish defenders.
“You know, that’s the type of football the Falcons like to play,” Snelling said. “It’s very gratifying to be able to do that, to be a part of that. But like I said, the offensive line, it’s all credit to them. They were blocking to the whistle, a little bit after the whistle, but that’s those guys. A running back loves running behind them and even our fullback Ovie Mughelli. I’ve been loving running behind him all year, just finishing to the whistle…”
The Birds certainly didn’t play perfect in this historical game, but they did things the right way — “The Falcon Way” often described by coaches and executives in this era that began with the hiring of General Manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Power running. Team defense. Refusal to quit.
And let’s not forget success by younger players and all-around signs for a brighter tomorrow. Enjoy this Falcons fans, because dubious history can now rest in the past.
Now, it’s really about the future.
“We broke the curse and it’s awesome to be the first to do that,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “…We just got to keep winning, win some games and get to the playoffs.”
MORE FALCONS-BUCCANEERS COVERAGE:
- GAMEDAY LIVE: More Falcons-Bucs coverage from AF.com
- GAME CENTER: Click here for stats and more from NFL.com
- MULTIMEDIA: Interviews, highlights and more from Bucs-Falcons
- FIRST TAKE: Exclusive post game interviews with Dave Archer
- GAME NOTES: Official game notes kept in the Raymond James Stadium press box
- THE BEAT BLOG: Quarter-by-quarter updates from AF.com’s John Manasso
- J. MIKE’S MISSIVES: Additional thoughts from the AF.com managing editor
- INACTIVES: Inactive players and starters from Week 17
- QUOTABLE: Thoughts from Falcons postgame | Buccaneers
- PHOTOS: Images from the Falcons victory over the Bucs
- FORUMS: Talk about the Falcons 9-7 finish with fans on FalconsLIFE