Wonder what it’ll be this time ... an illegal formation penalty to nullify Matt Bryant’s last-second 54-yard field goal, perhaps? Nah, too simple. Surely a franchise that had its locker room leader arrested the night before its only Super Bowl appearance for soliciting an undercover police officer can come up with something more creative than that.
This is, after all, the franchise that traded Brett Favre to the Green Bay Packers, who just happened to be the team standing between the Falcons and their second Super Bowl appearance. They meet today in the NFC Championship Game in the final football game ever played at the Georgia Dome.
Maybe this is just another tease, an appropriate send-off for the relic that Deion Sanders once proclaimed, “MY house! I BUILT this house!” Maybe good ol’ Charlie Brown never will kick that football.
Then again, maybe … just maybe.
Maybe this really is the Falcons’ year. After all, in a sports world where the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Cavaliers are reigning world champions of their respective sports, anything’s possible, right?
The Packers come to Atlanta as the hottest team in the NFL. Well, actually, that’s not right. Aaron Rodgers comes into Atlanta as the hottest player in the NFL. He has thrown 21 touchdown passes and only one interception during Green Bay’s eight-game winning streak.
But as well as Rodgers has played for the past two months, Matt Ryan has played just as well the entire season. He played well enough to earn All-Pro honors over Rodgers and Tom Brady. Like Rodgers, Ryan has been especially hot lately. He has 18 touchdown passes and zero interceptions over his past five games.
Even if they lose today, a strong argument could be made that this is the best Falcons’ team ever. Better than the 1980 team of Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews and Joel Williams. Better than the 2012 team that came within one play of beating San Francisco and going to the Super Bowl. And better even than the lone Super Bowl team of 1998.
This Falcons team has a dynamic offense and an improving defense. The latter is why Atlanta, not Green Bay, just might be playing better than any team in the NFC right now. They’re going to give up big plays and points to Rodgers. But they are faster and more athletic defensively than they’ve been in decades.
Safety Keanu Neal and linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell are rookies who have made a big impact. Same for three second-year players, linebacker Vic Beasley, cornerback Jalen Collins and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Veterans Jonathan Babineaux, Tyson Jackson and Ra’Shede Hageman have been solid up front. Dwight Freeney has given the pass rush a boost at the tail end of his career.
The Falcons are not yet a great defensive team. But they are pretty decent. Good enough to at least slow down other teams and get the ball back into Ryan’s hands.
With all of their youth, combined with this year’s draft being deep in defensive talent – plus getting cornerback Desmond Trufant back from injury – the defense could be better next season and for years to come.
Maybe Falcons fans who have endured a half century of misery and heartbreak finally will be rewarded for their patience.