Congratulations are in order for the Atlanta Falcons as Sunday they kept a 40-year old tradition alive. Their 44-11 drubbing at the hands of the Carolina Panthers kept alive the streak of never having back-to-back winning seasons in the team’s history.
The 2005 edition of the Atlanta Falcons go into the off-season with an 8-8 record and no playoff bid after making it to the Conference Championship game last year.
The closest this game ever got was 7-3 in the first quarter. After that is was like watching a hot knife go through butter as Carolina scored on every possession until 3:10 was remaining in the third quarter. They were able to even turn that punt into points as Michael Jenkins flubbed handling the punt as the Panthers recovered inside the Falcons’ 15-yard line. The defense was lucky enough on that drive to hold Carolina to a field goal.
The only other Atlanta stop up until that point was off another Atlanta turnover as Carolina could not punch it in from the 1-yard line on first-and goal. They settled for the field goal increasing their lead at that point to 17-3.
DeShaun Foster ran through the Falcons’ defense as if Atlanta defenders were playing two-hand touch, not tackle football. On second and one at their 30-yard line, Foster took the handoff from Jake Delhomme and shot through the line worked his way to the sideline and went 70 yards for the score to make the score at that time only 14-3. However the stench of death was in the air as the 70,000-plus fans knew a route was about to take place. Surprisingly, there seemed to be almost as many Panther fans and jerseys in the crowd as there were Falcons’.
Atlanta abandoned the run game almost immediately as Warrick Dunn failed to gain at least 50 yards on the ground for the first time since Dan Reeves was the coach. He only touched the ball seven times for 29 yards.
Vick’s passing numbers weren’t that bad – 15-of-24 for 115 yards, but he threw one interception after completing his first seven attempts. The fans booed the 2001 overall number one pick all day, with shouts for “Schaub” emanating from the stands towards the half. When Carolina increased their lead to 37-3 in the third quarter, one fan in the end zone took off his number 7 Vick jersey, threw it onto the field and stormed out of the stadium.
Delhomme left in the third quarter after going 14-of-20 for 163 yards and two touchdowns, giving way to backup Chris Weinke for mop up work. Steve Smith hauled in nine passes for 131 yard and a touchdown as he finished the regular season with 103 receptions.
Falcons fans got their wish as Matt Schaub came in for Vick in the fourth quarter. He was 9-of-13 for 110 yards and Atlanta’s only touchdown – a 14-yard strike to Roddy White in the corner of the end zone with 1:51 remaining. The Falcons went for two on the conversion and Schaub was able to find Brian Finneran over the middle at the goal line for two.
Despite the lopsided score, both teams only punted twice. Atlanta lost four fumbles and gave up an interception. One of those fumbles came on Carolina’s first punt.
The loss was Atlanta’s worst home defeat since 2001 when the St. Louis Rams defeated the Falcons 35-6.
“Not a lot went right for us today, as everyone who stayed to witness that game saw,” said Falcons’ head coach Jim Mora. Despite the loss Mora seemed upbeat about the team and the future of the organization. In spite of not finishing with a winning campaign in consecutive years Mora said this was only the second time in franchise history that Atlanta finished consecutive years with a winning season followed by a .500 record. He asked everyone assembled if they could name the other time that happened. It was in 1971, ’72 and ‘73 when Atlanta finished 7-6-1. 7-7, and 9-5 under the leadership of Norm Van Brocklin.
Keith Brooking was the one bright spot on the first day of a new year for the Falcons. He led the team with seven tackles, including a sack of Delhomme during the first series of the game. “Obviously, we didn’t reach our expectations that we set out for ourselves when we started the beginning of the year and it’s very disappointing to end the season like we did today,” he said. “It’s tough. It’s very tough to swallow.”
Brooking went on to say they met their match with a very determined bunch from Carolina. “You’ve got to five the Panthers credit,” he said. “They’re a very good football team and they showed it today.”
Our goal was to go out and win the game and go out on a positive not, but things didn’t go our way,” said Vick. The Pro Bowl quarterback looked agitated after being asked if he thought league defenses were figuring out how to defend him, as in three of the last four games Vick was unable to lead his team into the end zone. “It’s not just me,” he said. It’s not just Michael Vick. I’ve got other players around me,” he continued. “I know we’re a better football team that what we displayed today.”
Dunn said all aspects of the team had difficulty in getting anything accomplished Sunday. The team abandoned their trademark running game to pass the bal a lot. Sunday’s game was the first one all season in which the Falcons didn’t hit the century mark on the ground. “Today we just weren’t really able to get in synch offensively and we threw the ball a lot,” said Dunn. “It was a bad day at the office.”
Defensive end Patrick Kearney was deeply disappointed not only with the turnout of the game, but the season. “Seven years now I’ve expected to be a World Champion by the end of the season and I’ve fallen short,” he said. “That’s just terrible.”
Carolina Panthers coach John Fox was a gracious victor Sunday. “We won in a place that’s been very tough for us and against a team that’s been very tough against us,” he said. “I’m just very proud of our team and what they accomplished today,”
The Falcons start the off-season early this year as Mora and his staff will start evaluating talent. The playoffs begin this weekend as Carolina flies to New York to face the Giants. Other games of interest next week include Washington at Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, and Jacksonville at New England.
Notes of interest: While being a fierce rivalry with a traveling fan base, there was an inordinate amount of Carolina blue jerseys in the stands behind their bench and over an around their entrance onto the field. There were also quite a few #8 jerseys in the crowd (Matt Schaub).
- Photo2 by Dave Weinthal