The franchise quarterback would never play another down for this franchise. Petrino, who left Louisville for the specific purpose of coaching Vick, was reduced to working with the retread Joey Harrington. The Falcons started 1-6, by which time Vick had pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing. Then, after a bye week, they won a road game at San Francisco.
(Pay attention. This is about to get eerie.)
The next week the Falcons won again, this time at Carolina. They were 3-6. Next up was Tampa Bay in the Dome. (Any of this sounding familiar?) The Falcons lost by 24. They were 3-7. On Nov. 22, 2007, they played host to the Colts and Peyton Manning. Anybody who went to that game – I plead guilty – arrived expecting a rout of historic proportions. Typed these fingers: “This one bore the trappings of a holiday embarrassment, like the time your Uncle Pete had too much sherry and wound up face down in the cranberry sauce.”
But, miracle of miracle, it wasn’t that bad. The Falcons somehow led 10-0 after one quarter, Roddy White having caught a touchdown pass from Harrington. Was a Thanksgiving miracle at hand? Of course not. The Falcons scored three more points; the Colts scored 31, Manning authoring three touchdown passes in the second quarter.
The summation from this sector: “The Falcons could have lost 45-3, but they did better than that. They came closer than they had against Tampa Bay four days earlier. Give thanks for small favors.”
Those Falcons, it must be said, had an excuse. Their quarterback was bound for Leavenworth. Nineteen days after the Thanksgiving loss, their coach could be seen on late-night TV, calling the Hogs in Fayetteville, Ark. The Falcons would finish 4-12 with Chris Redman as quarterback and Emmitt Thomas as interim coach.
(Petrino’s last stand was a 34-14 home loss to New Orleans on Monday night. The networks made their schedules thinking they’d be getting Vick, leaving the team he left behind to absorb three nationally aired shellackings by an aggregate 59 points.)
These Falcons are 3-8. They entered Thursday’s game having been eliminated from the NFC South race. The Saints, who surely expected their old rival to be their closest pursuer, could have clinched the division by winning here. Then again, had New Orleans not no-showed against the Falcons earlier this month, it would’ve been home and dry already.
On that “very confusing” day – such was Arthur Blank’s description – his team looked the way it was supposed to look. Then it went to Carolina and won again, and you thought, “Hmm.” Then it came home and lost by 13 to Tampa Bay, and you thought, “Oh, well.”
When the schedule was revealed, Thanksgiving night was the first date you circled – surely a key divisional game, maybe even a preview of the NFC title tilt. Then the Falcons started 1-7. The Saints, meanwhile, were 7-1 with Drew Brees having missed five starts. How does either of those things happen?
Such, we can assume, is life. In the A-T-L, real life found the hugely disappointing Falcons working late on the holiday, and you had to figure NBC wasn’t thrilled with its slice of the three Turkey Day games. But at least Joey Harrington wasn’t starting this one. The guy the Falcons picked third overall in the draft following the dolorous 2007 season was. Give thanks for small favors, huh?