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.
Number 2: Julio Jones shocks the San Francisco 49ers on with a do-or-die touchdown (Week 15 at 49ers)
Even after showing some signs of life by defeating the Panthers (twice) and Saints following the 1-7 first half of the 2019 season, nearly everyone penciled in Atlanta’s Week 15 trip to Santa Clara as a loss.
The 49ers were the NFC’s juggernaut, sitting at an 11-2 record and coming off of an explosive and highly emotional victory at New Orleans to move into the NFC driver’s seat in Week 14. The only losses they had suffered up to that point were against the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens — strong teams in their own right.
You could see the resemblance between this 49ers team and the 2016 Atlanta Falcons — both teams were led to resounding victories by coach Kyle Shanahan. His zone blocking scheme and use of multiple running backs was working wonders for San Francisco’s rushing attack like it was for Atlanta in 2016; he also utilized a big time receiving weapon to open up opportunities for other pass catchers on each of those teams (in Atlanta it was Julio Jones, in San Fran it was George Kittle).
The 49ers had a lot to play for with the Seahawks trying to chase them down for the divisional title — suffering defeat could have put them in position to eventually fall from the 1-seed in the NFC all the way down to the 5-seed. The Falcons were playing for pride throughout almost the entire season.
Dan Quinn’s team showed from the start that they had no intention of laying down at the feet of the mighty 49ers, however, playing excellent defense and going into the locker room feeling good with the scoreboard showing 10-10.
Julio Jones and George Kittle were the offense in this game, each making 13 catches for 134 receiving yards. Out of the combined 410 yards of passing offense in this game, these two stars combined for 65% of that production from a yardage standpoint.
When the 49ers used a Kenjon Barner fumble to set up a score which extended their lead to 19-10 in the fourth quarter it seemed to be over for the Falcons, who hadn’t been able to get any offense going in the second half. That’s when Quinn’s unit answered with a nine-play touchdown drive which was set up by Julio drawing a big pass interference penalty.
Following a 49ers field goal to make it 22-17, Atlanta executed some flawless two-minute offense to put themselves on the cusp of the end zone with time just about expired.
On 2nd-and-goal Ryan threw what looked to be the game-winning touchdown to Austin Hooper, which was then reversed as the replay booth ruled that the ball had hit the ground.
Facing 3rd-and-goal from the five with five seconds left and no timeouts, the Falcons were likely taking their final snap of the game. With it, Ryan connected with Julio Jones right at the goal line. Jones was ruled down at the one as 49ers defenders started celebrating a victory.
Inside two minutes, however, replays are automatically triggered so there was no need for the Falcons to challenge the spot (which they couldn’t have done anyway since they had no timeouts). Following an anxious period of waiting, it was ruled that the ball had indeed crossed the goal line and that Jones was to be awarded a touchdown. The Falcons had essentially snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
The reason why this moment ranks so highly on this list is because of the drama associated with — the last snap which dictated victory or defeat, the replay, and slaying the juggernaut 49ers in their building.
This reminded me a lot of the Week 3 victory in 2017 when the Falcons stopped the Detroit Lions just short of the goal line and won the game after the replay booth overturned Golden Tate’s touchdown and called for a 10-second runoff to end the game. I actually ranked that as the second best moment of the 2017 season a few years ago.
Following the score, the Falcons recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff for another touchdown just to put the cherry on top of the Sunday.
It doesn’t get more dramatic than Week 15 in San Francisco.