And then there were four.
After some extremely close Elite 8 matchups, including two decided by fewer than 10 votes, we say so long to our fallen comrades Warrick Dunn, Ovie Mughelli, Rod Coleman, and Alex Mack. Of course, we’ll see Mack in camp again sometime after he returns from his tour of Finland. So in that case, it’s goodbye only for now.
We’re left with two enticing 1-seed vs. 2-seed matchups to resolve before we proceed to the finals and declare a victor of The Best Falcons Free Agent Signing Ever (TM). And then real-life free agency will begin, when the Falcons will have another opportunity to add to their list of best-ever free agent signings. And then we can add in some play-in games the next time we revisit this bracket.
Anyway, voting closes at noon tomorrow (Tuesday, March 7) so once again, remember to get your votes in! The Elite 8 showed us that every vote counts!
(1) RB Michael Turner (Falcons Free Agent Class of 2008) vs. (2) K Morten Andersen (1995)
At the top of the bracket, two of the most accomplished players at their respective positions in Falcons history square off. Both earned First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in their first year of arrival in Atlanta.
Morten famously converted the overtime kick that sent the 1998 Falcons to the Super Bowl, which helped him to a 9/10 playoff field goal conversion rate for the Falcons. To his credit, Turner had three 1,300+ yard rushing seasons and five 10+ touchdown rushing seasons during his Falcons career, which followed his years backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego (who coincidentally will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Andersen in August).
Both Turner and Andersen ended their respective careers in Atlanta, with The Burner playing through five Falcons seasons and Morten playing eight seasons all the way through age 47(!). Both players refused to be written off either, as Morten saved his two best Falcons field goal conversion percentage seasons for last (87% in 2006 and 89.3% in 2007) while Turner saved the very last juice in his step for a 98-yard rushing outing against the Seahawks, to help Atlanta to the first playoff victory of his Falcons career in his second-to-last career game.
So who makes it to the finals: the Burner or the Hall of Fame Kicker?
(1) WR Terance Mathis (1994) vs. (2) CB Ray Buchanan (1997)
As for the bottom of the draw, Mathis and Buchanan were Falcons teammates for 5 full seasons from 1997-2001 - each starting all 80 of those games - and undoubtedly have plenty of experience being lined up across from one another during Falcons training camps and practices 15-20 years ago.
Both players were named to one Pro Bowl during their Falcons career - Mathis upon his Atlanta arrival in 1994 and Buchanan in his second Falcons season in 1998. Mathis tended to produce impressive receiving numbers in unassuming, workman-like fashion, often letting flashier players like Andre Rison, Tony Martin, and Eric Metcalf occupy more of the limelight. Buchanan, meanwhile, was known as Big Play Ray and had a knack for interceptions and big returns, as well as seizing the spotlight on Super Bowl Media Day.
Both players assumed key roles on the 1998 Falcons team that made it to the Super Bowl. Mathis capped a 1,136 yard, 11 touchdown receiving season in 1998 with a legendary NFC Championship game performance, catching the touchdown pass that tied the game in regulation (before Andersen converted that aforementioned fateful overtime kick). Mathis was a highly consistent playoff performer for the Falcons, playing in four games in which he caught 5-7 balls for 70-95 yards in each outing with three total touchdowns.
Buchanan’s 1998 season, meanwhile, included 7 interceptions for 110 yards and 22 pass deflections, meriting a selection to the NFC Pro Bowl squad. That post-season following the 1998 season saw him add another 6 pass deflections while matched up against the likes of Terrell Owens and Cris Carter, thereby allowing the Falcons to maneuver past two teams with high-flying passing offenses.
Does Big Play Ray have another big play up his sleeve here? Or will Mathis fly by him on the way to the final?