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Time Machine: Backup Stars as Falcons Beat Cards in 2001

Posted Oct 24, 2013

With the offensive output of backup running back Maurice Smith and wide receiver Terence Mathis, the Falcons cruised to a memorable 2001 victory over the Cardinals

This series with the Cardinals has taken the Falcons to three different sites throughout the years. Since the first game in Week 13 of Atlanta’s inaugural year in 1966, the Birds have traveled to play the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix and University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

The Falcons competed against the then St. Louis Cardinals 11 times through 1987. Since the franchise re-located to Arizona in 1988, Atlanta has faced its NFC counterpart on 15 other occasions with the Cards holding a slim 14-12 advantage.

Traveling to different venues isn’t the only unique oddity in this rivalry. From 1988-93, the Falcons were playing what was at the time called the Phoenix Cardinals. Ownership decided to change their name to the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 1994 season.

So in addition to playing at three separate stadiums on the road in this series, Atlanta has faced off against the Cardinals with three different names.

In Week 3 of the 2001 season, Atlanta flew out West for a contest at Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University in scorching 104 degree weather. A combination of a strong passing attack, stout running game and an opportunistic defense was in the cards for the visiting Falcons.

RB Jamal Anderson was lost for the game with a knee injury early on Atlanta’s first drive. Back-up Maurice Smith emerged in his first extensive action of his career and he delivered big time.

Two WR Terance Mathis touchdowns, sandwiched between a pair of field goals, pushed Atlanta on top 20-7 late in the third quarter. Now it was time for the defense to aide the cause.

Falcons CB Ray Buchanan stepped in front of WR David Boston and picked off a QB Jake Plummer pass — one of three Plummer interceptions for the Birds defense — and scampered 33-yards into Arizona territory. Smith capped off the drive by scoring his first NFL touchdown from one-yard out to begin the fourth quarter.

But Smith’s heroics were not over.

After another Plummer pick deep in Atlanta territory, Smith hauled in short pass coming out of the backfield in the right flat and proceeded to outrace the Cardinals secondary 79 yards for a touchdown and a commanding 34-7 lead. Smith finished his coming-out-party with a combined 178 all-purpose yards with two scores, including 70 yards rushing and another 108 yards receiving. The 79-yard pass play would stand as the team’s second-longest of the entire season.

Arizona scored a late touchdown, but LB Keith Brooking stole another Plummer pass and the Falcons ran out the clock in the final 3:40 to secure their second win of the young season.