Being 2-0 gives you a chance to do something. Being 3-0 is an indication you might be better than pretty good. Football teams play only once a week – as opposed to baseballers – but momentum can be a mighty force in football. Momentum in baseball is tomorrow’s starting pitcher. Momentum in football is less tangible but nonetheless real: A team starts winning, and soon it views itself as a winner.
The 2004 Falcons came off a difficult season. Michael Vick missed much of 2003 with a broken ankle; Dan Reeves was pushed aside just after Vick returned. Arthur Blank’s first head coaching hire was Jim Mora, never a head coach. Not much was expected. Mora greeted an opening win in San Francisco over a bad batch of 49ers – they’d finish 2-14 – as if it were the eighth wonder of our world. And yet …
Three weeks later, his team still hadn’t lost.
Those Falcons went 11-5 and won the NFC South. They beat the 8-8 Rams in the Divisional Round by 30 points. They played Philadelphia for the NFC championship. They lost, but still. A season that augured nothing special saw the Falcons finish as an NFL semifinalist.
Jim L. Mora isn’t Vincent T. Lombardi. He lasted two more years here. He was fired after one season in Seattle. He’s 0-3 in his second season at UConn. Year 1 with the Falcons remains his career highlight. That Year 1 also underscores Newton’s First Law: A body in motion tends to stay in motion. Once a team gets going, who knows where it might land?
The 2004 Falcons were nothing special. They finished 20th in total offense, 14th in total defense. They outscored opponents by three points over 16 games. That they led the league in rushing – remember the DVD backfield of Dunn-Vick-Duckett? – hid issues elsewhere. Their leading receiver was tight end Alge Crumpler. But they started fast and played to their strength. Sometimes that’s enough.
The belief is that these Falcons have a chance to be special. After years of wrangling a payroll skewed by massive outlays to a handful of players, they’ve built a nice-looking team. It’s unclear if Ridder can win shootout games, but the NFL is moving away from shootouts. This might be a time when running the ball and playing defense again matters.
Over the Falcons’ existence, there haven’t been many harmonic convergences. Could we be looking at one? Let’s see what happens in Detroit. We’ll talk again soon.
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