At 4-4 the Atlanta Falcons get a break from divisional play, after facing NFC South rivals in back to back weeks. This week they do face another NFC foe, however, and one with whom they’ve had plenty of battles in the past.
The Dallas Cowboys have a rich history with a widespread fanbase stretching across the country. They were a frequent opponent for the Atlanta Falcons from the Birds’ inception in 1966, and have an overall 18-11 lead in the all time series.
The early days of Falcons football were rife with misery at the hands of the already established Cowboys. Dallas won the first five ever meetings between 1966-1974 — three of those games were complete beatdowns and two featured the Birds getting shut out.
Dallas dispatched a Steve Bartkowski led Falcons from the Divisional Round of the playoffs twice, in 1978 and 1980 — Atlanta’s first two playoff appearances ever. The game in 1980 was particularly excruciating, as the Birds looked poised for a Super Bowl run with a 12-4 regular season record and the NFC’s top seed. They blew a 24-10 fourth quarter lead, as Drew Pearson scored two fourth quarter Dallas touchdowns to break Atlanta hearts and to win the game 30-27.
The Falcons found some success against the Cowboys in the mid-to-late 1980s with four wins in five tries between 1986-1990, before the pendulum shifted back in Dallas’ favor through the strength of their championship winning teams of the ‘90s.
The Matt Ryan era has signaled a bit of a stalemate between the two franchises, as the teams are 3-3 since Number 2 was drafted in 2008. Atlanta’s three wins came in a row, between 2012 and 2017. The last of those victories featured Adrian Clayborn tying the NFC single game record with 6.0 sacks in a contest which the Falcons won 27-7.
The Cowboys have since bounced back and won the previous two meetings, in 2018 and 2020.
It was a thrilling game, and one Falcons fans will hope to forget. In Week 2 of the 2020 season, with both teams coming off of a season opening defeat, the Falcons could not have gotten off to a better start in Arlington. They forced two first quarter turnovers (along with a failed fake punt), and scored 20 first quarter points to punch the Cowboys in the mouth.
Each team exchanged blows in the second quarter and the Falcons went into halftime with a 29-10 lead — their offense clicking and the defense making big plays. Any normal team would likely cruise to an easy victory, but these were Dan Quinn’s Falcons — the most notorious second half chokers in NFL history.
Dak Prescott played a nearly flawless second half, scoring three rushing touchdowns and one more passing to put the Cowboys in position to come away with an unlikely victory.
Despite those heroics, the Falcons still found themselves winning 38-37 with less than two minutes remaining, and only needing to recover an onside kick to win. What followed was the worst Special Teams play I’ve ever seen in my life:
The apprehensive hands team watched as the ball trickled 10 yards downfield, instead of going after the football. Their inability or unwillingness to get the ball gave Dallas one more possession, and with it Prescott took them into field goal range where Greg Zuerlein kicked home the game winner.
This felt like a game which derailed Atlanta’s season before it even fully started. Dan Quinn was fired three weeks later, and he is currently Dallas’ defensive coordinator.
The Cowboys suffered a catastrophic, season-ending Prescott injury a few weeks later and they limped toward their own disappointing season at 6-10.
What are some of your favorite Falcons vs. Cowboys moments?