Let’s look back on something good. While last season ended in disappointment for the Falcons, losing to Nick Foles and the eventual Superbowl champion Philadelphia Eagles despite being favored going into the match, there were some really good moments along the way.
Euphoric: “marked by a feeling of great happiness and excitement” (Merriam-Webster). Today, we’ll look back on five moments from last season which put us as fans in a state of sheer euphoria and overwhelming happiness.
An important ground rule to establish before I begin: this list will comprise of singular plays, not full game performances. Don’t expect to see, for example, Julio Jones’ full 253-yard performance against Tampa Bay listed here.
Likewise, don’t expect to see something like “Atlanta’s victory over the Rams in the playoffs” on here; if there was a single play which led to a big victory (and there is), then that’s what you’ll find.
5) Brooks Reed to the rescue in Chicago
I don’t think there was ever a more anticipated start to a Falcons season, at least for me personally, than the one this past season. After hearing “28-3” an oversaturated amount of times and listening to how the team will suffer through a Super Bowl hangover all offseason, the start to the new campaign was long overdue.
The Chicago Bears looked weak coming into the season. They were supposed to be a nice, easy road victory to get under our belt to start the year. In the NFL, however, there’s no such thing as an easy road win, and the Chicago Bears put up a big fight in this game, eventually finding themselves in a goal-to-go situation to win the game.
Had the Falcons lost this game right out of the gate, the Super Bowl hangover talk and potential self-doubt would’ve reached unbearable levels. Following two dropped passes, the Bears found themselves in a 4th-and-goal situation from the 6-yard-line with eight seconds left in the game. One play would decide the outcome.
Brooks Reed would use a speed rush move to get around the right side of the offensive line before colliding with a back-pedaling Mike Glennon to snatch victory from what looked like a sure defeat just a few plays earlier. This was one of the biggest wins in recent memory just from a purely psychological viewpoint, and the euphoria the fans felt following the sack mirrored that fact.
4) A pair of missed field goals on Monday Nights
The Falcons found themselves in a fist fight throughout the entire second half of the season, in both the divisional race and the wild-card race in the NFC. There was never much room for error after a period from the early October to early November where the team suffered four losses in five games.
These two for the price of one euphoric moments came on road Monday Night Football matchups at Seattle in week 11, and at Tampa Bay in week 15. They were carbon copies of each other.
The script was as follows: the Falcons would outplay both the Seahawks and the Buccaneers for the most part. A fourth-quarter field goal by Matt Bryant gave Atlanta a double-digit lead against Seattle, and a fourth-quarter touchdown by Devonta Freeman gave the birds a late double-digit lead against Tampa. Both times, Atlanta’s defense would give up an immediate touchdown, and the offense would fail to salt the game away (Matt Ryan would get sacked on third down by Seattle’s Sheldon Richardson and Tampa’s Clinton McDonald), having to punt the ball away up by just a field goal. Both times, the opposing offense, without any timeouts, would make it into range to attempt a long field goal at the very end of regulation.
Had these games gone into overtime, the Falcons would’ve likely been psychologically defeated after blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead. The Seahawks and Bucs would’ve had full confidence and momentum on their side. Luckily, Blair Walsh missed a 52-yarder as time expired in Seattle, and Patrick Murray missed a 54-yarder as time expired in Tampa Bay. Falcons fans everywhere breathed a huge sigh of relief in the midnight hours of Monday Night in both instances. Without these victories, Atlanta would have missed the playoffs.
3) Julio Jones puts the Rams away
Throughout all of the ups and downs in the season, and even through the Superbowl hangover, the Atlanta Falcons found themselves in the playoffs as a wildcard representative. They would travel to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to face the NFC West Champion Los Angeles Rams, led by MVP candidate Todd Gurley and eventual Defensive Player of the Year winner Aaron Donald.
Atlanta’s defense flexed its muscle early, and the special teams forced two first-quarter turnovers to help the offense put up 13 unanswered points to start the game. The Rams would counterpunch in the second quarter, scoring 10 consecutive points of their own and going into halftime down just 13-10.
Thanks to the ageless leg of Kicker Matt Bryant, the Falcons found themselves up 19-13 with about seven minutes left in the game. At this point, Matt Ryan would find Mohamed Sanu on a screen pass which would be taken 52 yards and deep within Rams’ territory. Two plays later, Ryan would lob a 7-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones, on a beautifully designed play-action. There were still nearly six minutes left in the game at this point, but the Falcons had put it away, having built a 26-13 lead.
The reason this play was so euphoric was because the offense had finally broken through and scored a touchdown as opposed to kicking a field goal, which would have kept the Rams in it despite the fact that it would’ve still been a two-possession game. This was the play that had put a playoff game, and Matt Ryan’s first ever road playoff victory, to bed. For the first time all night, Falcons fans could breath knowing that they wouldn’t choke this one away despite having led all evening. Atlanta would win this game 26-13.
2) “We have a 10-second runoff, so by rule the game is over.”
The Falcons seemed to have been dispelling the notion of a Superbowl Hangover, at least in the early part of the season, when they met the up-and-coming Detroit Lions in a week 3 road matchup. Both teams were 2-0 and looking to take early control of the NFC standings.
Despite outplaying the Lions in nearly every facet of the game, the turnover difference favored Detroit, 3-0, and that’s what kept them in the game. Two of those turnovers involved good passes caroming off the hands of Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman and into Darius Slay’s waiting arms, and the third was an interception taken back for a touchdown by Glover Quin. As a result, the Lions found themselves down four with a chance to execute a game-winning drive with time running out. Following a very weak pass interference call (on a pass that was uncatchable), it looked over for the Falcons, who needed a goal-line stand as Detroit had it first-and-goal at the one with 19 seconds left.
After Matthew Stafford threw incomplete passes to Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron, he connected with Golden Tate, who fell into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown with eight seconds left. With all scoring plays being reviewed, however, it was ruled that Tate’s knee was down before the ball had crossed the plane as Brian Poole made contact with him. Because the replay stopped a running clock inside two minutes, this induced a 10-second runoff which Detroit couldn’t stop because they were out of timeouts. By virtue of there being less than 10 seconds left, the game was ruled over and the Lions were stranded at the one.
I’m sure everyone thought this game was over after Tate scored that touchdown, both Lions fans and Falcons fans alike. Even after it was clear that he was down inside the one, it seemed that the Lions were destined to score on one of their next two plays. My eyes lit up as Dean Blandino mentioned the probability of a 10-second runoff on the Fox Broadcast, and when Walt Coleman made the announcement, the excitement was inconceivable.
This win wasn’t as important as the one against the Rams or the Seahawks, but the reason why this moment ranks so high is because this was the definition of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. To go from an almost guaranteed loss to a win is an unbelievable feeling.
1) Deion Jones breaks the Saints’ hearts
I don’t think there should have been any doubt about this moment being ranked number one on this list. The Saints came into Atlanta for a crucial week 14 Thursday Night matchup. The buildup to this game between the two fanbases is already nasty enough under normal circumstances, but there was an added level to it this time around because both teams were competing for playoff spots late in the season.
Things started to look bleak in the second half, after Matt Ryan threw an interception in the endzone (his third of the day) in the third quarter with the Saints up 17-10. The second half muscle of Atlanta’s defense kept them in it long enough for the offense to find a rhythm and to stop making stupid mistakes.
The ageless Matt Bryant kicked in a 52-yard Field Goal with 3:49 left to give Atlanta the late lead, 20-17, but that left more than enough time for the Saints’ offense to work with. Drew Brees led them to within Field Goal range almost instantly, and after converting on an aggressive 4th-and-1 from Atlanta’s 23.5-yard line, he seemed destined to break our hearts with a game winning touchdown.
With 1:30 left, the Saints had the ball in a 2nd-and-10 from Atlanta’s 11-yard-line. The play call was four verts, sending every pass catcher but the running back (who was a check-down option) on a straight shot into the endzone. The Falcons’ defense countered with a cover 4 play call, a nearly perfect defense to take away the deep threat of four verts (but susceptible to that check-down pass). Instead of taking the check-down like he should have, Brees targeted TE Josh Hill in triple coverage over the middle of the field. Deion Jones made him pay for the blunder and intercepted the pass to seal the game.
Everything about this situation was perfect. Not only did it directly result in a big win in the playoff race, but it also happened against the Saints. The game situation went from Drew Brees surely breaking our hearts, to Louisiana native Deion Jones breaking their hearts, in an instant. The sting for Saints fans is amplified when the realization hits that even if they hadn’t made it to the endzone they still could’ve easily tied the game with a Field Goal. This is the moment from the 2017 season we’ll relieve, and bring up to Saints fans, for a long time.