The 2019 season was one which left more to forget than to remember. Coming off of a 7-9 season in 2018, the Falcons fell well short of expectations and repeated their 7-9 mark a year later.
However, there were some positive moments to pick out from the disappointing campaign. Those moments may have been few and far between for a team that started the year 1-7 and elected to make no major changes to its coaching staff or front office, but they were still present.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will count down the five best moments of the 2019 season from five to one. Keep in mind that this is a very subjective exercise and that not everyone’s five best moments will match this countdown. However, that’s what makes it fun. Discussion will be sparked, and that can help distract us as we pass through the offseason.
This will not be a list of whole games (for example, you will not see “Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans as Michael Thomas and Drew Brees fail to stat pad a touchdown in the closing moments of the game” in this countdown), nor full player performances (you will not see “Matt Ryan’s ninth consecutive 4000-yard season” listed). It will be a list consisting of singular plays, or pairs of plays if they coincide with one another.
Let’s get into it with play number five.
Number 5: Olamide Zaccheaus makes an instant impact off the bench before Younghoe Koo proves to be more than a field goal kicker (Week 14 vs. Panthers)
The Falcons went into the Week 14 matchup against the Panthers playing for the pride of being able to sweep one of their biggest rivals while closing the coffin on Carolina’s meager playoff hopes.
The Falcons had gone 2-2 coming out of the bye week, with surprising blowout road victories against the Saints and Panthers before getting embarrassed at home against the Buccaneers and losing a Thanksgiving home game against New Orleans. Falcons fans didn’t really know what team they would see going into the second matchup against Carolina, but they were treated to another dominant performance.
Atlanta held a 20-10 lead in the third quarter but were left without the services of starting wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who had already caught a touchdown pass in the game before exiting due to an abdominal injury (which would end up costing him the rest of the season).
Olamide Zaccheaus, the undrafted rookie who won the hotly contested wide receiver battle in training camp and preseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster going into the regular season, was given the opportunity to replace Ridley and to make an instant impact.
Facing a 3rd-and-8 from his own 7-yard-line, Ryan dialed up a deep shot to Zaccheaus, who embarrassed cornerback Donte Jackson both by burning him in coverage and by shaking off his tackle attempt. An unforgettable moment in his young career, Zaccheaus had nothing but green grass in front of him as he completed the 93-yard touchdown reception.
That was the third-longest play from scrimmage in Falcons history, the longest play from scrimmage in the 2019 NFL season, and the longest first career catch by any player in NFL history.
Up 27-10 at this point, the Falcons seemed to be cruising to their second home win of the season, and they broke Carolina’s back on the ensuing kickoff.
Kick returner Greg Dortch tried to create some sort of a spark for his desperate football team, but instead got the ball knocked out of his hands by Damontae Kazee. It popped right into the waiting arms of kicker Younghoe Koo who was filling his lane beautifully.
Koo seemed determined to try and score off the play, in what was one of the most hype moments of the season. One week after launching three consecutive successful onside kicks (well, two officially) against the Saints, Koo solidified himself here as more than just a field goal kicker.
Speaking of those onside kicks, let’s relive that moment as a bonus:
That string of onside kick recoveries would have legitimately been number one on this countdown had the Falcons managed to pull off that comeback against the Saints.
The Falcons beat the Panthers 40-20 in Week 14. That sparked the start of a four-game winning streak to close out the season.
Tune in again next week for play number four on this countdown.