In a near festival atmosphere, the Falcons inched one game closer Sunday to ending the franchise's most dubious streak.
In a zany affair -- zany enough for a team still flirting with .500 in late December -- the Falcons drubbed the hapless Buffalo Bills 31-3 at the Georgia Dome to improve to 8-7. Now with a victory in the season finale at Tampa Bay (3-12) next Sunday, the team will post the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.
"I think it's important for us," said quarterback Matt Ryan after passing for three touchdowns. "It's definitely good motivation for us heading into next week. Because you know how difficult it is to win games in this league. If we could get back-to-back winning seasons, I think it's something that would be a great milestone for the organization."
After being eliminated from the playoffs last week, the Falcons have not been shy about rallying around ending the streak and burying the 44-year-old vestige of defeat.
"We want to be the first team," Ryan said.
The Falcons jumped on the Bills from their first snap, a 42-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Roddy White, and didn't ease up until Chris Redman was taking kneel-downs as the final seconds ticked off. The Bills, with quarterback Brian Brohm making his NFL debut, dropped to 5-10.
As the game progressed, things got more bizarre as the lead grew and injuries started to mount.
Defensive end Kroy Biermann, winner of the team's punt, pass and kick competition on Friday afternoon practices, was handling kick-offs.
Redman was all ready to handle punting. Ryan went in for some holding duty.
Punter Michael Koenen suffered a concussion making a tackle and kicker Matt Bryant pulled a hamstring while punting for Koenen in the third quarter. With just sixty minutes left to play, the Falcons are right back in the free agent market for a kicker for the Tampa Bay game.
"My goodness, where do you want me to start?" Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "In terms of special teams, it was very interesting day on the sidelines in terms of getting guys prepared."
Biermann, a bit out-sized for a kicker at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, booted his first kickoff down to the 3-yard line. His second one went to the 16 and his last one down to the 12.
"Yeah, I was just trying to boot it down there," Biermann said. "I wasn't connecting too good on it, but it's something that takes a lot of practice. Kicking is hard.
"The only thing I didn't want to do was kick it out of bounds. I just wanted to get it down there as far as I could."
With Koenen and Bryant injured, the Falcons also went for a couple of fourth-down calls in the second half, just so Redman didn't have to show off his leg.
"We had Chris Redman in the bullpen," Smith said.
For the Bills, things did not necessarily improve after the first play. Buffalo never penetrated as far as the Falcons 20-yard line. The Bills were outgained 391 yards to 178 and turned the ball over three times. By the second half, the Falcons had gone deep into their playbook and seemingly had run every reverse they had.
"[Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey] emptied the gadget department of our game plan," Ryan said. "[Eric] Weems ran a nice reverse. [Marty Booker] had some success with it. We took some shots down the field and made some plays."
The Falcons defense was stout against Brohm and the Bills offense, holding them to a season-low 40 yards rushing and forcing Brohm into a 43.2 quarterback rating.
The defense also got in on the scoring when defensive end Chauncey Davis forced a fumble from running back Fred Jackson. Rookie defensive end Lawrence Sidbury recovered and rumbled for an 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter, which made it 24-0.
"Your rookie year is a big learning process," Sidbury said. "You have a lot of things coming at you. Toward the end of the season, some of the things you're starting to get better at. The coaches put us in there to see what we could do."
Rookie cornerback Christopher Owens got his first career interception and rookie defensive tackle Vance Walker also saw a lot of action.
"We had a number of young guys on our football team who grew up today," Smith said. "Brent Grimes continues to progress. He's had three interceptions in two ball games. We had a lot of young guys that are really starting to contribute, especially on the defensive side of the football."