The Falcons are facing a similar situation like one they faced in December 1998 in Detroit. Back then, it was RB Jamal Anderson who helped lead a comeback win for the Dirty Birds in the Motor City.
Similarities are everywhere this week as Atlanta travels to Detroit for a Saturday night nationally-televised event on ESPN. Fourteen seasons ago, the Falcons were in a comparable position as they traveled to the old Pontiac Silverdome for a December 20, 1998 contest.
Without ailing head coach Dan Reeves (heart surgery), the Birds were searching for victory No. 13 (against two losses) on the road and an elusive first round playoff bye. Sound familiar?
The Falcons were forced to fight back from deficits of 7-0 in the first quarter, 14-10 at halftime and 17-10 in third quarter.
Late in the third quarter, Atlanta took control and followed the typical script for these ’98 “Dirty Birds."
QB Chris Chandler connected on a pass for 14 yards and RB Jamal Anderson rumbled three times for 19 yards to move to the Lions 27 yard line on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Chandler then lofted a deep strike to WR Terance Mathis and the score was tied.
The game-winning drive featured one of the best highlights of the year in a season of magical plays for the Falcons. On third and four from the Detroit 27, Anderson broke tackle after tackle in a strong run down to the 1-yard line. On first and goal, “Jam” was immediately hit in the backfield, but somehow shook loose, and then broke another tackle to plow into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
Atlanta’s “Bomb Squad” defense with the likes of Chuck Smith and Cornelius Bennett held on down the stretch over the final six minutes to claim the NFC West Division title for just the second time in team history and a first round bye for the first time in a hard-fought 24-17 victory.
Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Rich Brooks and the players called Reeves from a speaker phone set-up inside the locker room after the game and an emotional Reeves enjoyed the celebration with his team.
Could déjà vu’ happen all over again in snowy Motown this season? The opportunity is right there in front of us.