June 30, 1965, marks the first day that the Falcons were considered a member of the NFL, and they have not looked back since, even with their two Super Bowl appearances both having resulted in losses (1998 and 2016). Their dark days are generally overshadowed by the bright moments in the history of their franchise, ranging from player accomplishments to postseason achievements.
Without further ado, here are three of the greatest moments in the history of the Falcons’ franchise.
Moving on by the skin of their teeth
Morten Andersen. 1998 NFC Championship Game. 38-yard field goal. Overtime victory.
Falcons fans know exactly how important this game was, even with their loss in that season’s Super Bowl – beating the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings was enough of a positive streak to end their season.
Boasting the league’s top-scoring offense by putting up 34.8 points per game, and also having the sixth-best scoring defense by only allowing 18.5 points per game, the Vikings were looked at as the presumed winner of the NFC coming into this game. But the Falcons seemingly had other thoughts.
The Falcons came into the game with only two losses on the year, while the Vikings had put up a lone, three-point defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that year on their way to winning the NFC Central division (which eventually became the NFC North). The Vikings put a smackdown on the Arizona Cardinals, beating them 41-21 to set up the matchup with the second-seeded Falcons the following week.
For the Falcons, they finished at the top of the NFC West division, claiming the second seed. They defeated their divisional rivals and no. 4 seed San Francisco 49ers, 20-18, to get into the NFC Championship round after having earned a first-round bye.
The average margin of victory for the Vikings was 16 points this year, but the Falcons had no time for these stats that focused on what was accomplished in the regular season – this was the playoffs and they smelled blood in the water. Having kept up with Minnesota all game, they went into the locker room at half time, trailing 20-14. Going into the fourth quarter, the Falcons had closed the gap slightly, but still trailed, 20-17.
The fourth quarter saw the Falcons put up 10 points (including the tying touchdown with 57 seconds to go), while the Vikings led off the final quarter with a TD pass from Randall Cunningham. With this game going into overtime, Falcons’ kicker Morten Andersen was exactly what the doctor ordered to help spring the upset.
Andersen’s 38-yard boot through the uprights was the only scoring that occurred in the overtime period, and it ended the Vikings’ season. For Atlanta, they were able to capitalize on one of the best games of their season against a very stout opponent, and their jaunt into the Super Bowl was a much-needed outcome for this team, even if they did lose.
Slaying the giant on the road
Up to this point, having to travel to face the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field for a playoff game was a death sentence, as teams did not come out alive afterward. But, as the ‘98 season proved, routines are meant to be broken – just ask Atlanta.
Heading into Lambeau for a Wild Card round matchup, the Falcons proceeded to dismantle the Packers to a tune of 27-7, forcing Brett Favre into two interceptions and a pretty poor showing by the Green Bay offense in general.
The Packers did not put up any points until a third-quarter Donald Driver touchdown helped eliminate any talk of a shutout, but that ended up being the lone scoring that the green and gold would do that day.
On the other side, the Falcons scored pretty much anyways they pleased, as points were scored via field goals (two 20-some yarders by Jay Feely), a passing TD (Mike Vick to Shawn Jefferson), a rushing TD (T.J. Duckett), and a blocked punt recovered in the end zone (Artie Ulmer fell on it).
The following week resulted in a quick boot from the postseason at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, but the fact that the Falcons were able to do what they did in the Frozen Tundra, much less during the first full season with Vick at the helm, is a pretty impressive feat.
Sending out the Dome in style
The 2016 NFL season marked the end of the Georgia Dome, so it was only right that the Falcons sent the stadium that they called home out in style.
Their 11-5 record bought them a ticket to the postseason at the top of the NFC South division, and their high-flying offense (33.8 ppg, 1st in the league) was a runaway train for any opposing defense to try and stop.
Their game against the Packers, which was after the Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks by 16 points in the divisional round, was in Atlanta, and it ended up being their final time playing in that stadium, but they sent it out on the right note.
A 44-21 drubbing of Green Bay, where both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones went bananas against a torn-up Packers secondary that was much maligned and lacking any sort of shutdown back-end options.
Having thrown for 392 yards and four scores (quarterback rating of 139.4), Ryan was a man among boys that day, and his favorite target from the regular season carried over into the postseason too. Jones was unstoppable as well, catching nine balls for 180 yards and two touchdowns while the entire GB defense was trying to at least cover up the bleeding it endured the entire game.
Ryan even ended up running for a TD that day too, so he accounted for all points except for a first-quarter chipshot field goal from Matt Bryant and a three-yard scoring run by Tevin Coleman at the 12-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
While everyone knows how the next game went for the Falcons that season, they are at least able to hang their hat on how they performed in the two postseason games prior to the SB, and how they sent out their beloved stadium of 24 years.