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Pivotal moments in Falcons history: the 2004 NFC Championship

Fact: Mike Vick has never eaten grilled asparagus

NFC Championship Game: Atlanta Falcons v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Welcome to “Pivotal moments in Falcons history,” a series examining the most important moments in Atlanta Falcons history. This team has experienced its fair share of ups, downs, and embarrassing moments. Let’s re-live the mediocrity.

From the moment the Falcons drafted Michael Vick, they had the NFL’s biggest prize in mind. They had their shot at the Lombardi in 1999, but fell short. After nearly 40 years of mediocrity (with some periodic successes thrown in just to keep us all interested), Vick appeared to have the dynamic skill set that could finally take the Falcons all the way. But alas, that proved to be untrue. And the 2004 NFC Championship Game was, in essence, their last shot with Vick under center. The Falcons would go 8-8 and miss the playoffs in 2005. In 2006, they’d go 7-9 and miss the playoffs again. After the 2006 season wrapped, Vick would never play another snap as a Falcon.

The Eagles played in the Conference Championship one year earlier, losing to the Panthers. In fact, the 2004 NFC Championship was their fourth consecutive trip to the Conference Championship. And remember, they hadn’t been to a Super Bowl since 1980. They also hadn’t won an NFL Championship since 1960. So to say this game was important to the people of Philadelphia would be an understatement. And perhaps more importantly, the coaching staff and the team itself had something to prove. (Imagine telling Andy Reid he’d have to wait another 15 years for a Super Bowl ring!)

Let’s set the stage: Playing a road game in 17 degree weather in an open air stadium is ... problematic. The Falcons had the NFL’s best ground game, and they tried to get their rushing attack going in the first series, but the Eagles defense wasn’t having any of it. During the Eagles’ second possession, Jon Runyan sprung Brian Westbook for a big gain. Then Dorsey Levins punched it in. 7-0, Eagles. Jay Feely knocked down a chip shot 23-yarder. 7-3, Eagles. The Eagles and the Falcons traded scores (a Chad Lewis touchdown reception and a Warrick Dunn rushing touchdown) and the Eagles led 14-10 at halftime. (Before we move on, it’s worth noting that the Eagles were in excellent field position prior to the Chad Lewis’ second quarter touchdown reception because Donovan McNabb completed a 45 yard pass to Greg Lewis during their second possession. McNabb would go 17-26 for 180 passing yards and throw 2 passing TDs that day.) The Falcons offense was nowhere to be found after halftime and the Eagles grew their lead with a couple of field goals in the third quarter. 20-10, Eagles. A second Chad Lewis touchdown reception cemented the Eagles victory, 27-10. Game. Over.

It’s not like the Falcons were supposed to win that game. As dynamic as the offense was with both Vick and Dunn on the field at the same time, that Falcons team had its flaws. They also went in as 6 point underdogs. But imagine a scenario where they would’ve walked away victorious. The Falcons then would’ve faced the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It’s fair to wonder whether they would’ve been competitive, but getting there with Vick under center would’ve been significant. Even if it didn’t impact the Falcons’ decision to draft Matt Ryan in 2008, a second trip to the Super Bowl in 6 years would’ve impacted the franchise’s overall trajectory, which is why this is was undoubtedly a pivotal moment in Falcons history.

Your thoughts, Falcoholics?