Atlanta-Green Bay Playoff History

When the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers meet on Sunday this will be their fourth match up in the playoffs.  This will be the first time meeting in the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship game.  Let’s take a look at the prior three contests, and at the end, you will see a link to the “Fly High” Falcons fight song.  Yes, the Falcons actually have a fight song.

The Falcons and the Packers first met in frigid Lambeau Field in Green Bay during the Wildcard round on December 31, 1995.  Green Bay entered the contest with an 11-5 record and as a 9.5 point favorite.  Atlanta’s record was 9-7.  With a temperature of 30 degrees and a wind chill factor of 25 degrees, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre threw three touchdown passes, running back Edgar Bennett ran for an eight yard touchdown and Antonio Freeman returned a punt 76 yards for a score.  Atlanta quarterback Jeff George threw two touchdown passes, including a 65 yarder to Eric Metcalf, but also two costly interceptions as the Packers dispatched the Falcons, 37-20.

Atlanta and Green Bay met once again in Lambeau at night on January 4, 2003 in another Wild Card round meeting.  Green Bay came into the game as a 6.5 point favorite, and the temperature at kickoff was a balmy 31 degrees.   The Packers finished 12-4 during the 2002 season while the Falcons stood at 9-6-1.  Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick started his first playoff game and what an impression he made.  Vick threw for 117 yards and rushed for another 64 yards.  He threw one touchdown pass to Shawn Jefferson and committed no turnovers.  Atlanta also scored on a T. J. Duckett six yard run, Artie Ulmer’s one-yard return of a blocked punt, and a 23 yard Jay Feely field goal.  The Packers committed five costly turnovers, including three by Favre, in Atlanta’s 27-7 victory.  This marked the first time Green Bay lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The most recent contest took place in the Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011 in the Divisional round.  Atlanta entered the game as the number 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with a 13-3 record during the 2010 season and as a 1.5 point favorite.  Green Bay made the playoffs as a wildcard entry with a 10-6 record during the regular season.  The story in this game was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers completed 31 of 36 pass attempts for 336 yards and three touchdowns.  He also ran for a score.  The game was basically over at halftime as Green Bay scored 28 second quarter points, including a Tramon Williams 70 yard interception return off of an ill-timed pass from Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan on the last play of the quarter.  Ryan committed three turnovers in the game as Green Bay routed Atlanta 48-21 on their way to an NFL title.

The Packers have a 2-1 record against the Falcons in the playoffs, 1-1 in Lambeau Field and 1-0 in the Georgia Dome.  Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan will square off again Sunday afternoon for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI in Houston.  This game will mark the last one for the Falcons in the Dome before they move into the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2017 season.  Las Vegas oddsmakers currently list Atlanta as a 5 point favorite with an over/under of 60 points.  So expect a lot of scoring in this game.  It’s time to Rise Up Atlanta!  Go Falcons!

 

As promised, here is a link to the Falcons’ fight song.

http://www.falconsroost.com/flyhighfalcons.mp3

 

 

The Atlanta Falcons: Super Bowl Champions?

I call myself a fan of the Atlanta Falcons and have been such for just over 40 years.   Which is pretty good since the franchise is in their 51st season.  Oh sure, I could have picked the New England Patriots (but they actually sucked pre-Belichick and pre-Brady) or the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Dallas Cowboys, but that would have been too easy.  I figured I lived in Atlanta so why not pull for the home team. Now, over those 40+ years I have witnessed much failure and little success.  A quick tale of the tape shows that the Falcons have won six Division titles, one National Football Conference (NFC) championship (1998) and no National Football League (NFL)–Super Bowl–championships.  I would also be remiss if I did not add that the organization has had one player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Falcon—Claude Humphrey in 2014.

Satrurday, the Falcons will play the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs.  The Dirty Birds finished 11-5, won their division, and garnered the number two seed in the NFC playoffs.  Vegas oddsmakers have established the Falcons as a 5 point favorite in the Georgia Dome on Saturday.  However, the Falcons lost to this same Seattle team earlier in the year, albeit after a bit of controversy. Still, Atlanta seems to have a good chance to win the game and a fair chance to bring home the city’s first NFL title.  After all, they have one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NFL.  Yet, I am uneasy.  I am skeptical of their chances against Seattle. I am somehow expecting the Falcons to pull out defeat from the jaws of victory.  As any long-time Falcons supporter (yes, more than a few of us exist) will tell you—we have witnessed too many Falcon playoff horror stories.

As a backdrop, please know that Atlanta is 7-12 all time in playoff games.  Though, it seems much worse than that.  I attended the first game after the 1978 season.  Yes, it took the Falcons twelve years to make their first playoff appearance.  That should have tipped me off right there, but I was young and stupid (now, I am much older and a little less stupid, mainly because my lovely wife has enlightened me a bit).  Anyway, Atlanta won 14-13 when the Philadelphia punter, subbing for the injured placekicker, missed a 34-yard field goal with 17 seconds to go in the game.  My thoughts simply were that we were lucky to win the game and had no inkling that the Falcons would break our hearts over and over again.  We lost the next week in Dallas to the Cowboys, 27-20, after leading 20-13 at halftime.  However, I wasn’t jaded yet.

That feeling began to form after the 1980 season.  Atlanta posted a 12-4 record and won its first division title.  The Birds hosted Dallas in the divisional playoffs with visions of a Super Bowl title firmly implanted in my brain.  With Atlanta leading 24-10 going into the third quarter, I was feeling pretty good.  However, we gave up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including the game winner with 47 seconds to go.   That game initiated an oft-repeated mixture of feelings: frustration, anger and despair.

After the 1982 strike-shortened season when it seemed the whole league made the playoffs, my Falcons decided to flush the season with a 30-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.  At that point, I could have cared less because the strike had left me a little embittered with professional football.

I should have cared more because the Falcons would not make the playoffs again until 1991.  For years, I forgot Atlanta actually had an NFL team, and frankly, I think many Americans believed the same.  But lo and behold a brash fellow by the name of Deion Sanders, Prime Time, entered the Atlanta sports scene and helped lead both the Falcons and the Braves back to the playoffs.  If I had a boy at this time I would have named him either Deion or Prime Time, but I didn’t, so let’s move on.  The Falcons actually won a playoff game in 1991 by defeating the hapless New Orleans Saints, 27-20.  However, the Birds were face-planted the next week in D.C. by the Redskins 24-7.  All in all, I felt pretty good to be a Falcons fan and Deion helped the Braves go to the World Series.  Maybe I’ll name my next dog Prime Time.

While the Braves were becoming the Team of the ‘90s, the Falcons just struggled.   Deion left for greener pastures, and who could blame him?  The Falcons made the playoffs again in 1995 but decided to freeze up in Green Bay as the Packers blasted the Birds, 37-20.   Just as I was pushing the Falcons deeper into the abyss of my mind, Fate laid her hands on the Dirty Birds in 1998.  After eking out a 20-18 home playoff victory over the San Francisco 49’ers, Atlanta somehow defeated the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings up there.   Normally dependable placekicker Gary Anderson missed a chip shot field goal that allowed the Falcons to tie the game on a Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis touchdown reception with 57 seconds to go in regulation.  Morten Andersen nailed a 38 yard field goal in overtime to secure Atlanta’s first Super Bowl berth.  I took special delight in the fact that Atlanta defeated Minnesota in that disgrace of a building, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  The 1991 Braves lost four times in that god forsaken place to the Twins during the World Series.  Karma, man!

Just as I was feeling some love for the Dirty Birds and believing they might actually win a championship, Fate kicked us in the posterior this time.  You see, we had an All-Pro safety by the name of Eugene Robinson.  The day before the Super Bowl, Robinson received an award given annually to a player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership.  Late that evening, Robinson celebrated by soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.  As you can imagine that did not go well for ole Eugene or the Falcons.  After getting out of jail in the early morning of Super Bowl day, Eugene lined up in his safety position and John Elway and the rest of the Denver Broncos beat him like a rented mule.    A mantra of mine sprung forth as a result of this defeat:  Same Ole Falcons! Yep, just when you start to believe, they do something that will make you puke.

And so we move on to the Michael Vick era.  Atlanta finally made it back to the playoffs in Vick’s second season with Atlanta.  Stunningly, he led the Birds to a victory over Green Bay in Lambeau Field after the 2002 season.  Up until that time, Green Bay had never lost a playoff game there.  Of course, just as I was revving up the Falcons love meter, Atlanta and Vick spit the bit the next week in frigid Philly.  Still, I had thoughts that the Falcons were about to embark on a new era–a time of consistent playoff appearances and a much-coveted Super Bowl title or two or three.

Vick breaks his leg before the 2003 season but returns to form in 2004 to lead the Falcons back to the playoffs.  After routing the St. Louis Rams at home, Vick returned to Waterloo the next week and the Falcons were again caged in Philly.  Yet, I still had hope that the Falcons were close to going on a long championship run.  Those hopes were dashed when the Falcons could not make it back to the playoffs the next two years and Vick checked in to Leavenworth after a conviction on dog fighting charges in 2007.  At that point, I washed my hands of those filthy Falcons.

Enter Matt Ryan.  Ryan performed admirably as a rookie in 2008 and the Falcons made it back to the playoffs only to see Ryan throw two costly interceptions in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.  I became hopeful again.  Ryan was just a rookie, so better times were ahead, or so I thought.  What I didn’t know at the time was that Ryan would have trouble winning in the playoffs and would commit horrific turnovers that would lead to those losses.

The Falcons missed the playoffs the next year.  Yep, same ole Falcons.  And guess what, the hapless Saints won the freaking Super Bowl.  Are you kidding me?

However, Ryan and the Birds soared to a 13-3 record in 2010 and secured the number one seed for the playoffs.  Oh happy, happy, joy, joy!  Surely, this will be the year.  Nope.  Ryan throws two interceptions and loses a fumble.  The Packers boat race the Falcons, 48-21, in Atlanta.  Honk if you didn’t score for the Packers in that game!  Same ole, stupid Falcons!

We made it back to the playoffs the next season.  Ryan commits no turnovers!  We score two points.  We lose to the New York Giants.  Same ole Falcons.

Then, the 2012 season unfolds. The Falcons go 13-3 and secure the number one seed again.  We open with Seattle and jump out to a 20-0 halftime lead.  Game over, right?  Wrong!  The Falcons offense went comatose and Seattle scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left.  Another Falcons choke?  Not this time. Matty Ice led the team down the field, kicker Matt Bryant booted a 49-yard field goal with eight seconds to go and the Falcons held on.  Again, with the thoughts of a championship fresh in my mind, Atlanta proceeded to waste another healthy halftime lead in the NFC championship game.  They got the ball down to the San Francisco 10 yard line late in the game but gave it back to the 49’ers on downs.  The Falcons fought hard but lost 28-24.  Maybe this was the sign of good things to come.

Nope.  The Falcons fell apart over the next two seasons and the organization fired its all-time winningest coach, Mike Smith.  Same ole Falcons.  Just shoot me!

 

Enter Dan Quinn.  Arthur Blank hired Quinn as his new head coach after the 2014 season.  Quinn came from the ultra-successful Seattle organization. While the 2015 season was a bust, the 2016 season saw the Falcons finish with the aforementioned 11-5 record against one of the toughest schedules in the league.

So now it’s time to see if the Falcons have changed. Will they finally win that elusive championship?  Or will they revert back to those same ole Falcons.  First up–Seattle.  After that, who knows?  If we can’t beat Seattle, it’s a moot point.

I am cautiously optimistic about the Seattle game.  I honestly believe Atlanta has the better team, but I believed that before Dallas beat us in 1980, Green Bay killed us in 2010 and San Francisco beat us in 2012.  I have seen too many collapses over the years and can’t get this image of Ryan committing costly turnovers out of my head. I want so badly to believe, but the Falcons have never won a championship in 51 years.  Like a lot of Atlanta fans, I am hoping for the best but expecting the worst.  Please don’t be these same ole Falcons.  Please. Please.

 

Short History of the Atlanta Falcons

Courtesy of Albert Herring

Courtesy of Albert Herring

The Atlanta Falcons joined the National Football League (NFL) as an expansion team in 1965. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle offered the franchise to Rankin Smith Sr. on June 30, 1965 in exchange for $8.5 million, the highest price in NFL history for a franchise to that date. The NFL granted the Falcons the first pick in the 1966 draft and the franchise chose Tommy Nobis, a linebacker from the University of Texas. Smith hired Norb Hecker, an assistant under Green Bay legend Vince Lombardi, as the first coach and the team lost its first regular season game to the Los Angeles Rams 19-14 on September 11, 1966 in Atlanta Stadium. And so, the Falcons began their journey as one of the least successful franchises in NFL history.

Hecker lasted three games into the 1968 season before Smith fired him after the coach compiled a record of 4-26-1. Smith then hired Norm Van Brocklin, who lasted eight games into the 1974 season before receiving the axe. Van Brocklin’s ledger: 39-48-3. Marion Campbell became next man up. He lasted through five games into the 1976 season, walking away with a 6-19 record. Leeman Bennett stepped to the fore-front at the beginning of the 1977 season and led the Falcons to their first playoff game (a 14-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles) in 1978, and their first Division title in 1980. Unfortunately for Falcons fans, both playoff runs ended with losses to the Dallas Cowboys.   Bennett’s tenure with the Falcons ended with another playoff loss after the strike-shortened 1982 season, but he became one of only four Falcons coaches who left with a winning record, 46-41. The next 15 years entrenched the Falcons as one of the worst franchises in NFL history as a litany of coaches came and went while compiling a record of 79-147-1, a .350 winning percentage.

Dan Reeves took the helm in 1997 and led the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance after the 1998 season. The team lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34-19, without star safety Eugene Robinson who was arrested earlier that day for soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.

Reeves remained the head coach after Arthur Blank bought the franchise from the Smith family on December 6, 2001. Reeves proceeded to guide the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 behind first-year starting quarterback Michael Vick. Vick broke his leg during the 2003 preseason, the Falcons lost seven straight games during the regular season, and Blank fired Reeves. Reeves left with a record of 49-59-1.

Jim Mora Jr. took over the reins in 2004 and Vick returned as the starting quarterback. The Falcons won their third Division title, defeated the St. Louis Rams 47-17 in the Divisional playoffs, but lost in the NFC Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10. Mora would not achieve another winning season in Atlanta and in 2006 professed his dream job–head coach at the University of Washington. After a 7-9 record that year, Blank gave Mora the opportunity to pursue his dream job after terminating Mora’s employment with the Falcons.

Bobby Petrino accepted Blank’s offer to become the Falcons’ 13th head coach. Before the 2007 season, Vick pleaded guilty to dog-fighting charges in Virginia and would never play for Atlanta again. Petrino resigned without notice after 13 games to take a job at the University of Arkansas.

Yet, the Falcons would enjoy their best five-year run in franchise history from 2008 to 2012. Mike Smith became head coach, Thomas Dimitroff took over as general manager, and Matt Ryan became the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The Falcons finished 11-5 that year but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Arizona Cardinals, 30-24. While not making the playoffs in 2009, the team finished 9-7 and for the first time in franchise history attained back-to-back winning seasons. The Falcons stormed back in 2010 with a 13-3 record, their fourth Division title and the top seed in the National Football Conference (NFC) playoffs. However, the Green Bay Packers pasted the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, 48-21. The next season, the Falcons again made the playoffs before falling to the New York Giants, 24-2, in the NFC Wild Card game. In 2012, the Falcons enjoyed their best season since the 1998 Super Bowl campaign. The team went 13-3, beat Seattle in the Divisional round of the playoffs (30-28), for Smith’s only playoff win, and lost to San Francisco in the NFC championship game, 28-24, after a fourth-down pass from the San Francisco 10-yard line fell incomplete in the waning moments of the game.

The 2013 and 2014 Falcons compiled a 10-22 record, which ultimately led to Smith’s demise. Blank fired the coach after the 2014 season. Still, Smith left as the most productive coach in franchise history, 60-36. Not long after Smith’s termination, Blank hired Dan Quinn to coach the team. Time will tell if the decision to hire Quinn was a shrewd one or another in a long line of poor management decisions that have plagued the franchise from its inception.

The Falcons are arguably the worst franchise in NFL history. The team is about to embark on its 51st season and yet the numbers do not lie. After 50 years of play, the team has compiled a record of 330-432-6, 7-12 in the playoffs. The franchise owns five Division titles, one Conference championship, one Super Bowl appearance, one Hall of Fame inductee (Claude Humphrey), and zero, I repeat, zero, NFL Championships. To borrow a phrase from former San Francisco 49er coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, “Who has it better than us?” For Falcons fans, just about every other franchise. Falcons Rise Up!  You are way overdue.

Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints Rivalry

 

Atlanta_Falcons_white_wordmark

206px-New_Orleans_Saints.svgThe National Football League (NFL) has its share of rivalries, including Dallas-Washington, Chicago-Green Bay, and Cleveland-Pittsburgh.   Yet arguably the one with the most vitriol between fan bases is the Atlanta-New Orleans rivalry.  At these games, fans have yelled obscenities at the opposing fans, fought opposing fans, and even attempted to urinate on opposing fans. Before looking at some series statistics and a review of some of the games in this blood feud, an explanation of why the rivalry exists is warranted.

The franchises came into the NFL one year apart, Atlanta in 1966 and New Orleans in 1967. Both cities reside in the Deep South and are about seven hours driving time from one another. The teams have played each other twice a year since 1970, except in the strike-shortened 1982 and 1987 seasons. Both have competed in the same divisions in the National Football Conference since 1970. Geographic proximity, twice-a-year contests, and direct competition for division titles and playoff berths tend to produce rivalries.

Atlanta leads the series 49-43, but New Orleans has won 13 out of the last 17 games. The Falcons are 24-21 against the Saints in Atlanta and 25-22, including a playoff game in 1991, in New Orleans and San Antonio (one game in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina). New Orleans’ longest winning streak is six in the series while Atlanta’s is 10. Both teams have won five division championships, one conference championship, and have appeared in one Super Bowl. New Orleans has one NFL Championship by virtue of its 2010 Super Bowl (XLIV) win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The rivalry has produced some memorable games. In 1970 the two teams were placed in the same division for the first time and the start of two-games-against-the-other every season commenced. The series began to create some bad blood between the two division brothers in 1973 when the Falcons administered the worst Saints defeat in their history with a 62-7 drubbing at the old Tulane Stadium.

Both games in 1978 came down to the wire. With Atlanta trailing New Orleans in the Superdome with 19 seconds left, Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski threw a Hail Mary pass towards the end zone that was tipped by Atlanta receiver Wallace Francis into the hands of teammate Alfred Jackson for a 20-17 Atlanta victory. Two weeks later in Atlanta, the Falcons, down 17-13 at their own 28-yard line with 53 seconds to go, witnessed Bartkowski drive the team down the field and into the end zone with only five seconds left for another 20-17 victory.

In the only postseason encounter between the franchises, Atlanta defeated New Orleans in the Superdome 27-20 in the Wild Card playoff round. Falcons quarterback Chris Miller hit receiver Michael Haynes for the go-ahead 61-yard touchdown with just under three minutes left in the game.

New Orleans re-opened the Superdome on September 25, 2006 against Atlanta after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Before a delirious crowd and a national television audience, the Saints dominated the Falcons, 23-3. In the first quarter, New Orleans safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt that teammate Curtis Deloatch recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Atlanta could produce very little offensively the rest of the game. The contest became the highest-rated program in the history of ESPN. In July 2012, a statue of the Gleason punt block was erected outside the Superdome. Entitled “Rebirth,” the statue represents the resilience of the New Orleans people after the destruction rendered by Hurricane Katrina.

During the Saints’ Super Bowl season of 2009, the teams met again on Monday Night Football in the Superdome. After the first quarter, Atlanta led 14-7, but the Saints scored 21 second-quarter points to take command. Behind quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons rallied but saw their hopes dashed by a late fourth quarter Ryan interception at the New Orleans five-yard line. The Saints held on for a 35-27 victory.

During the 2012 season, the Saints came to Atlanta three weeks after giving the Falcons their first loss of the season, 31-27, in New Orleans. As the Saints players, coaches, and staff prepared to leave the airport in a charter bus, airport workers threw eggs at the bus. Possibly inspired by the actions of the soon-to-be unemployed workers, the Falcons intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees five times on the way to a 23-13 win.

Brees and the Saints gained a measure of revenge during a Thursday night nationally-televised encounter with the Falcons in the Georgia Dome in 2013. Brees threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and a one yarder to back up tight end Benjamin Watson for a 17-13 Saints victory. Brees surpassed Warren Moon for fifth place on the all-time career passing list after throwing for 278 yards against the Falcons.

No matter the records, games between the Falcons and Saints bring out the best in both teams and the worst in the two fan bases. For the “Who Dat?” Nation and the “Rise Up!” throng, no victory is sweeter than the one against their bitter rivals.

Short History of the Atlanta Falcons

Courtesy of Albert Herring

Courtesy of Albert Herring

The Atlanta Falcons joined the National Football League (NFL) as an expansion team in 1965.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle offered the franchise to Rankin Smith Sr. on June 30, 1965 in exchange for $8.5 million, the highest price in NFL history for a franchise to that date.  The NFL granted the Falcons the first pick in the 1966 draft and the franchise chose Tommy Nobis, a linebacker from the University of Texas. Smith hired Norb Hecker, an assistant under Green Bay legend Vince Lombardi, as the first coach and the team lost its first regular season game to the Los Angeles Rams 19-14 on September 11, 1966 in Atlanta Stadium.  And so, the Falcons began their journey as one of the least successful franchises in NFL history.

Hecker lasted three games into the 1968 season before Smith fired him after the coach compiled a record of 4-26-1.  Smith then hired Norm Van Brocklin, who lasted eight games into the 1974 season before receiving the axe.  Van Brocklin’s ledger: 39-48-3.  Marion Campbell became next man up.  He lasted through five games into the 1976 season, walking away with a 6-19 record.  Leeman Bennett stepped to the fore-front at the beginning of the 1977 season and led the Falcons to their first playoff game (a 14-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles) in 1978, and their first Division title in 1980.  Unfortunately for Falcons fans, both playoff runs ended with losses to the Dallas Cowboys.   Bennett’s tenure with the Falcons ended with another playoff loss after the strike-shortened 1982 season, but he became one of only four Falcons coaches who left with a winning record, 46-41.  The next 15 years entrenched the Falcons as one of the worst franchises in NFL history as a litany of coaches came and went while compiling a record of 79-147-1, a .350 winning percentage.

Dan Reeves took the helm in 1997 and led the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance after the 1998 season.  The team lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34-19, without star safety Eugene Robinson who was arrested earlier that day for soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.

Reeves remained the head coach after Arthur Blank bought the franchise from the Smith family on December 6, 2001.  Reeves proceeded to guide the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 behind first-year starting quarterback Michael Vick.  Vick broke his leg during the 2003 preseason, the Falcons lost seven straight games during the regular season, and Blank fired Reeves.  Reeves left with a record of 49-59-1.

Jim Mora took over the reins in 2004 and Vick returned as the starting quarterback.  The Falcons won their third Division title, defeated the St. Louis Rams 47-17 in the Divisional playoffs, but lost in the NFC Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.  Mora would not achieve another winning season in Atlanta and in 2006 professed his dream job of head coach at the University of Washington.  After a 7-9 record that year, Blank gave Mora the opportunity to pursue his dream job after terminating Mora’s employment with the Falcons.

Bobby Petrino accepted Blank’s offer to become the Falcons’ 13th head coach.  Before the 2007 season, Vick pleaded guilty to dog-fighting charges in Virginia and would never play for Atlanta again.  Petrino resigned without notice after 13 games to begin a career at the University of Arkansas.

Yet, the Falcons would enjoy their best five-year run in franchise history from 2008 to 2012.  Mike Smith became head coach, Thomas Dimitroff took over as general manager, and Matt Ryan became the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.  The Falcons finished 11-5 that year but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Arizona Cardinals, 30-24.  While not making the playoffs in 2009, the team finished 9-7 and for the first time in franchise history attained back-to-back winning seasons.  The Falcons stormed back in 2010 with a 13-3 record, their fourth Division title and the top seed in the National Football Conference (NFC) playoffs.  However, the Green Bay Packers pasted the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, 48-21.  The next season, the Falcons again made the playoffs before falling to the New York Giants, 24-2, in the NFC Wild Card game.  In 2012, the Falcons enjoyed their best season since the 1998 Super Bowl campaign.  The team went 13-3, beat Seattle in the Divisional round of the playoffs (30-28), for Smith’s only playoff win, and lost to San Francisco in the NFC championship game, 28-24, after a fourth-down pass from the San Francisco 10-yard line fell incomplete in the waning moments of the game.

The 2013 and 2014 Falcons compiled a 10-22 record, which ultimately led to Smith’s demise.  Blank fired the coach after the 2014 season.  Still, Smith left as the winningest coach in franchise history, 60-36.  Not long after Smith’s termination, Blank hired Dan Quinn to coach the team.  Time will tell if the decision to hire Quinn was a shrewd one or another in a long line of poor management decisions that have plagued the franchise from its inception.

The Falcons are arguably the worst franchise in NFL history.  The team is about to embark on its 50th season and yet the numbers do not lie.  After 49 years of play, the team compiled a record of 322-424-6, 7-12 in the playoffs.  The franchise owns five Division titles, one Conference championship, one Super Bowl appearance, one Hall of Fame inductee (Claude Humphrey), and zero, I repeat, zero, NFL Championships.  To borrow a phrase from former San Francisco 49er coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, “Who has it better than us?”  For Falcons fans, just about every other franchise.  Falcons Rise Up!