Five rounds are now in the books of the 64-player tournament to decide the best Falcons free agent signing of all time. We’re now left with the final two competitors in the bracket: Michael Turner and Terance Mathis.
To get here, Turner took down the likes of Coy Wire, Devin Hester, Adrian Clayborn, Morten Andersen, and Alex Mack, with the Mack matchup being a bit of a buzzer-beater.
For Mathis’ part, he had to outlast Courtney Upshaw, Jacob Tamme, Lawyer Milloy, Rod Coleman, and Ray Buchanan.
So who will be crowned champion: the bruising runner or the high-flying receiver? For one final time, let’s break this one down:
RB Michael Turner (Falcons Free Agent Class of 2008) vs. WR Terance Mathis (Class of 1994)
Both Turner and Mathis were backups before arriving in Atlanta: Turner stuck behind LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego and Mathis behind Rob Moore and (for his first 3 seasons) Al Toon on the Jets receiver depth chart. In fact, both men - who humbly began their NFL careers as 5th and 6th round picks, respectively - were utilized as special teams returners for the teams that initially drafted them.
But both players came into their own immediately in Atlanta. In Michael Turner’s very first game for the Falcons in 2008, he churned out an unforgettable 22-carry, 220-yard rushing game with 2 touchdowns. That season, Turner went off for 1,699 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and earning first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
For his part, Mathis arrived in Atlanta in 1994 to the tune of 111 receptions and 1,342 yards and 11 touchdowns, teaming with Andre Rison to form a lethal receiving duo for the run-and-shoot era Falcons, and earning a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl squad alongside the likes of Jerry Rice and Cris Carter.
Turner went on to play for the Falcons for five total seasons, managing three 1,300-yard rushing seasons and scoring double-digit touchdowns each and every year. Mathis’ Falcons career spanned eight seasons, with four 1,000 yard receiving seasons to his credit and a minimum of 50 receptions in each of those eight seasons. Mathis’ 1998 season in particular stands out, when he averaged 17.8 yards per reception in the play-action-heavy Chris Chandler-led offense, and famously caught the game-tying reception for the Falcons with one minute left in regulation of the NFC Championship game.
As for Falcons records, Turner’s 60 rushing touchdowns are the most in Falcons franchise history. On the Falcons career rushing yards leader-board, Turner is 2nd behind Gerald Riggs, who played two more Falcons seasons than Turner did. Turner’s 17 rushing touchdown performance in 2008 is tops in Falcons’ single-season history. His 1,699 rushing yards that season was the 3rd-best rushing yardage output ever by a Falcons running back in a single season.
Terance Mathis had many of the Falcons’ career receiving records at the time he retired, but he has since been surpassed by Roddy White and Julio Jones in some categories. Mathis ranks 3rd in franchise receiving yards, 2nd in franchise receptions, and 2nd in franchise touchdown receptions. His 111-catch standout season in 1994 ranks as the 3rd-most receptions in a season by a Falcons receiver in franchise history.
It also appears that Turner and Mathis rank among the top 3 in several Falcons playoff career categories: Turner for Falcons playoff carries, rushing yards, and touchdowns and Mathis for Falcons playoff receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
So now you get to choose whether to end this series via the ground or via the air. Who is the player who gets to be crowned the best veteran free agent signing in Atlanta Falcons history?