Dec. 31, 2017
Falcons Flashback Friday: Week 17 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1995
Normally I will do a flashback for the Falcons against a team they are playing that week that has "similar" situations as what the Falcons are going through right now. However, there has't been a situation where the Falcons and the Panthers have played in a "winner-take-all" or with playoff spots on the line, well, that the Falcons have won. We can go back to 2014 in the final week where the Panthers and Falcons played and the winner got the division title while the other went home. Well, Carolina thumped Atlanta...badly, and ended the Mike Smith tenure in the ATL.
So looking back there has been one time where the Falcons were in position to win on the final week of the season to make the playoffs. And that is in 1995, against the powerful San Francisco 49ers.
Looking at that year for Atlanta, oddly there were parallels to the 1995 Falcons and this year's Falcons. The team is heading into the final week with a "win-and you're in" mentality while the opponent still has something to play for (Carolina is still in the mix of a division title and a first-round bye if the Saints and Vikings both lose). But also, the Falcons were in most games in 1995, as 5 of their 7 losses were by a TD or less (this year's Falcons have a similar problem as 4 of their 6 games were a TD or less).
There has been two key differences however. The Falcons defense was a giant mess in 1995 and there was little to no rushing attack (despite the late Craig Heyward gaining 1,000 yards for the Falcons). However, Atlanta's passing game was stout thanks in part to the run-and-shoot offense, a primarily passing oriented offense that you would find in 7-on-7 pick-up games and maybe a precursor to the Air Raid offense in college football. It was why the rushing rank was down in Atlanta in 1995 was they relied on it. So in that case the Falcons offense was somewhat the cog. But for this year's team, the Falcons have been consistently inconsistent on offense, unable to score touchdowns, catch passes, hold onto the ball, protect the QB, etc. and the defense, while not being mistaken for the 85 Bears, 00 Ravens, or 02 Buccaneers, have been solid throughout the season.
So let's go back in time, back to the old NFC West days where the Panthers were a fierce baby kitten in their first year (a very good first year as they went 7-9 including beating Atlanta in Week 16) and the Saints were Saints. And the Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and the newly relocated St. Louis Rams were always trying to dethrone the high & mighty San Francisco 49ers, who were the defending Super Bowl Champions. And the 49ers owned Atlanta. Many pegged this game as a win, and the 49ers with a win, would take the NFC homefield advantage away from Dallas.
And the 49ers started out like they were going to blow the doors off of the Falcons, including a trick play by them where Jerry Rice threw for a TD pass to JJ Stokes to put them up 14-3 in the first quarter (obviously, Rice's ONLY TD pass in his NFL career). However, Atlanta struck back in the 2nd with a touchdown pass by Jeff George to Eric Metcalf but San Francisco had no trouble coming back with a TD of their own by Derek Loville. After a couple of stops, Atlanta got two field goals from Morten Andersen (including a 59 yarder near the end of the half) to cut it to 21-16.
But bad news arose near the end of half as Falcons QB Jeff George was injured and out of the game with a sprained neck. So in came backup and former Saint Bobby Hebert, who was Atlanta's starter before George arrived in 1994 (and named to a Pro Bowl with the Falcons). Hebert in the second half led a scoring drive in the third quarter, throwing a TD pass to Terrance Mathis for a 22-21 lead.
San Francisco struck back but only could muster 2 field goals from Jeff Wilkins in the 4th quarter to give the 49ers a 27-22 lead late. However, Hebert used his Louisiana voodoo and threw a TD pass to Mathis, who made some great moves to get into the end zone for a 28-27 lead (the 2-point conversion failed). The Niners chances ended when Kevin Ross intercepted Steve Young with 19 seconds left.
The Falcons clinched the final spot in the NFC Playoff that year while San Francisco dropped to the #2 spot behind Dallas. Ironically, both the Falcons and 49ers ended up losing at the hands of the Brett Favre-led Green Bay Packers before they got bounced by Dallas in the NFC Championship. Many thought given how Hebert had played though that he deserved a start in Lambeau Field, but Jeff George was "healthy enough" to start. George played well in the Wild Card game, but not excellent as the Falcons lost in a game that got away from them by halftime.
Funny how things are with football in Atlanta these days. Heading into that final game in 1995 the Falcons fan base were just "hopeful" to get into the playoffs as the franchise had been futile for practically 30 years. Now, after this run Atlanta has endured for nearly the past 10 years and making 5 playoff appearances and last year's Super Bowl appearance and a few other seasons of competitive football is from the base "we are better than what we are playing all year, sneaking into the playoffs is more of a disappointment and a 9-7 record won't fly with this group." It's good to have that though. But back then, January football in Atlanta was unheard of.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat