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Time Machine: Dirty Birds Take Flight in '98

Posted Jan 17, 2013

Punctuated by a close, nail-biting win over then-division rival San Francisco, the Falcons played off emotion and sheer will as they earned the trip to face Denver in the Super Bowl.

The last and only postseason matchup between the Falcons and 49ers occurred on January 9, 1999 at the Georgia Dome. It doesn’t always happen, but the hype matched the outcome for these two NFC West division rivals looking to advance in the divisional round.
 
Head coach Dan Reeves made his return to the coaching sidelines for the first time after undergoing open heart surgery on Dec. 14, 1998 and the emotional lift was contagious.
 
In front of an electric, packed house of 70,262, the Falcons used the exact same formula that was successful during the regular season, which led to a franchise-best 14 wins. The modus operandi was rushing the ball (136 yards), stopping the run (55 yards allowed), controlling the tempo (32:42 time advantage) and playing opportunistic defense (three interceptions).
 
Atlanta struck first in the initial quarter on a 36-yard punt return by Tim Dwight to the San Francisco 38-yard line. Four strong runs by RB Jamal Anderson were punctuated by his powerful 2-yard touchdown burst for a 7-0 lead.
 
The Falcons' defense was equal to the challenge as it did not surrender a first down to the likes of future Hall of Famers QB Steve Young and WR Jerry Rice until the second quarter.
 
Meanwhile, the Falcons’ offense kept attacking and pounded out an 82-yard drive to go up 14-0 on another Anderson jaunt, but this time it was in spectacular fashion.
 
The “Dirty Bird” dance originator extended his entire body, diving the final 5 yards to seemingly appear to fly into the end zone, to complete the 34-yard score.
 
The 49ers cut it to 14-7 on a Young to Rice 17-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Falcons countered with a field goal for the only points in the third to head into the final quarter with a slim 17-10 advantage.
 
Early in the fourth quarter, the staunch defensive effort continued as S William White picked off a Young pass to set-up a K Morten Andersen 32-yard field goal.
 
San Francisco pulled close marching for a touchdown with 2:57 left, then converted an odd two-pointer by accident after a bad snap on the ensuing PAT attempt forced them to try for two, and it worked. The tension was stifling for both teams in this tight 20-18 contest.
 
Atlanta ran precious time off the clock on its next possession on six running plays, but had to punt it back to the Niners with 38 nervous ticks left.
 
The Falcons' defense, which had come up big all season with an NFL-high 44 takeaways, clinched the victory with another White interception off a desperation heave by Young on third down and 10 from their own 36-yard line.
 
For the Falcons, it was their first playoff win since 1991 and first home postseason win since the 1980 season.
 
These two teams will battle again 14 years later in the postseason. But it won’t be for bragging rights in the division and to advance to another game in the second season.
 
One of these teams will represent the National Football Conference in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. That has a nice ring to it … doesn’t it?


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