We’re in the dead period of football (you can read about how much I hate this period here), and with it, we don’t have much to talk about except for some speculation here and there.
I figured this would be a good time to look back on some moments in Falcons history and maybe relive them while we wait for football to come back.
That idea has given rise to a new series of “Throwback Thursday” articles I’m planning on writing throughout the dead period. Each week, we’ll re-live and discuss a certain moment in this franchise’s 52-year history.
You can find last week’s Throwback Thursday article, about the Tony Gonzalez trade, here.
After a post-Super Bowl lull, 2002 was a bit of a renaissance year for the Atlanta Falcons under head coach Dan Reeves. After leading the birds to an unexpected Super Bowl run in 1998, Reeves saw his Falcons mire in mediocrity for the next three seasons: finishing below .500 in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
After trading up for Michael Vick in the 2001 draft, Atlanta hoped that winning and the playoffs were right around the corner. Vick played in just eight games as a rookie (two starts) but earned the starting Quarterback job in 2002.
The Falcons acquired running back Warrick Dunn in free agency and selected Running Back T.J. Duckett in the first round of the draft ahead of the 2002 season to help bolster the team’s struggling rushing offense, which ranked in the bottom half of the league every season after 1998. Nobody knew it at the time, but something special had formed that offseason: Atlanta’s famous “DVD” trio was assembled.
The DVD era
The procurement of Dunn and Duckett, along with the promotion of Vick paid immediate dividends for Atlanta’s rushing attack, which elevated to fourth in the NFL with 148.0 rushing yards per game that season.
Atlanta’s rushing offense was the only elite facet of the team in 2002: as the passing offense and rushing defense ranked in the bottom half of the league, while the passing defense ranked 16th.
The Falcons nonetheless overcame a 1-3 start to the season and made it to the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record, thanks in part to an eight-game undefeated run between weeks 6 and 13. A 1-3 finish to the season cost the team an opportunity to win the division, and forced them into a matchup with the Green Bay Packers in the Wildcard round.
Winning a playoff game on the road against Green Bay wasn’t just difficult, it was improbable: coming into 2002, the Packers had never lost a playoff game at home since the NFL instituted the postseason in 1933, going 13-0. They also hadn’t suffered a single defeat at home in the 2002 regular season, winning all eight games at Lambeau Field.
The Lambeau leap
As if those weren’t difficult enough odds for the upstart Falcons to overcome, they also had to face off against one of the game’s best QBs, Brett Favre, in 31-degree weather. Coming into this game, Favre had a preposterous 35-0 record at home while playing in temperature which didn’t exceed 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
Michael Vick and the Falcons didn’t care.
With the cold elements favoring them, Green Bay counted on the snow to help stifle the Falcons. That snow eventually came, but not until halftime, and by then Atlanta had built an insurmountable 24-0 lead.
Vick registered his first career playoff touchdown less than six minutes into the first quarter, finding Shawn Jefferson for a 10-yard pass. Less than three minutes later, Mark Simoneau blocked Josh Bidwell’s punt out of his own end zone, and Artie Ulmer recovered it for Atlanta’s second touchdown in the game. Following another Green Bay mishap in the kicking game (a muffed punt), T.J. Duckett capitalized with a 6-yard TD run to give the birds a 21-0 lead.
The sold-out Lambeau Field crowd was left speechless by halftime, as the Falcons breezed through the second half to claim a famous 27-7 victory against the odds.
Vick, already selected to his first career Pro Bowl that season, showcased himself as a superstar with the entire country watching. His numbers weren’t spectacular — 13-25 for 117 yards and a TD, along with 10 rushes for 64 yards — but his improvisation and ability to turn broken plays into positive gains left the Green Bay defense bewildered.
Favre, meanwhile, was suffocated by Atlanta’s defense. He threw for 247 yards and a touchdown on 42 attempts (a porous 5.88 yards per pass attempt) along with three turnovers. Favre would leave as soon the final whistle was blown, without saying a word to anybody.
The Falcons would end up losing to the eventual NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round, but that win in Wisconsin on that freezing January night will always be remembered.
The DVD legacy
The “DVD” trio would spend another three seasons together, blazing a rushing trail of success for the Falcons. Unfortunately, Vick missed most of the 2003 season with a broken leg, and Atlanta’s fearsome rushing attack fell into mediocrity as a result.
With a fully healthy Vick in 2004, however, the trio helped the Falcons lead the NFL in rushing with 167.0 yards per game (13.0 more yards per game than the second placed team). That year, Atlanta would win the NFC South for the first time and would make it to the NFC Championship Game.
The Falcons would once again lead the league with 159.1 rushing yards per game in 2005, which was the trio’s last season together.
Even after Duckett’s departure to the Washington Redskins prior to the 2006 season, Atlanta would showcase the most prolific rushing attack the NFL had seen since 1984, with a 183.7 yards per game average. Vick became the only QB in NFL history to rush for 1000 yards in a season that year.
The “DVD” trio of Dunn, Vick and Duckett made the Falcons the most electric team in the NFL in the early-to-mid 2000s. They’ll always have a special place in the hearts of Falcons fans who watched them shred defenses apart. They gave this fanbase many great memories, and that playoff win in Lambeau Field is maybe the greatest of those memories.
Expect these “Throwback Thursday” articles to be recurring throughout the offseason, to reminisce about the team’s history and to give us some stuff to talk about. Don’t expect them to go in order, however. The next one could look back on a moment that occurred in the 90s or even a few years ago. Between you and me, I’m just making it up as I go along.