The Atlanta Falcons' Week 1 overtime win over the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints on Sunday was truly a game for the ages, surrounded with huge hopes and expectations, which got us to wondering if it was the best season-opening game in franchise history, factoring in storylines, anticipation and regardless of outcome; here are five to consider:
1. Week 1 of the 1966 season
There's no debate about any Falcons season-openers, without the very first one actually taking place. In 1966, the NFL awarded Rankin M. Smith a franchise for the city of Atlanta for $8.5 million. At the time, there were 14 NFL franchises in existence, eight AFL clubs. Officially, Atlanta became the 23rd professional football club in existence, the 15th in the NFL, prior to the merger. The first game in franchise history has to serve as one of the most-memorable Week 1 openers in club history, despite the 19-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The Falcons fell behind early, 16-0, and weren't able to recover, despite two TDs by QB Randy Johnson, a 53-yard pass to WR Gary Barnes and a 3-yard TD run.
2. Week 1 of the 1973 season
The Falcons season-opening game in 1973 is more than memorable, thanks to the club smashing 35 team records in its 62-7 defeat of the New Orleans Saints. Among the litany of Falcons highlights were three-rushing TDs, one each by RBs Art Malone, Joe Profit and Eddie Ray, who also caught a TD pass from QB Bob Lee. Also in the historic contest, Falcons QB Dick Shiner threw three TD passes (two caught by WR Ken Burrow and one by WR Wes Chesson) and CB Tom Hayes logged a pick-six from 65 yards out. Falcons K Nick Mike-Mayer added two FGs (21, 45) in the dominating win.
In Sunday's victory against the New Orleans Saints, QB Matt Ryan set a franchise record in both passing touchdowns (156) and for most passing yards in a game (448). Take a look at other big moments in Ryan's career so far.
3. Week 1 of the 1999 season
Following the Falcons 1998 NFC title game, when the club shocked the world by defeating the Minnesota Vikings, the rematch was on in Week 1 of the '99 season; the hype, hope and expectations for Atlanta to get back to the Super Bowl had the city buzzing. In the highly-publicized contest, the Falcons gave a brilliant come-from-behind effort, trailing the Vikings 17-0 in the second quarter, when Falcons QB Chris Chandler connected with WR Chris Calloway for a 23-yard score, followed by a 2-yard TD run by Falcons FB Bob Christian, before eventually falling to Minnesota, 17-14.
4. Week 1 of the 2008 season
The Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era begins. The Falcons hired Smith to lead the team that would be directed by a new face of the franchise, Matty Ice, who was selected third-overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Both head coach and QB earned rave reviews after the Week 1 victory against the Detroit Lions, 34-21. In the victory, Ryan became the first QB to throw a TD pass on his initial NFL attempt, since New England's Michael Bishop accomplished the feat against Indianapolis on Oct. 8, 2000.
5. Week 1 of the 2014 season
After a disappointing 2013 season, followed by key free-agent additions and draft picks, Falcons fans were beyond hyped for the 2014 Week 1 opener. The build-up for the game was also intensified, thanks to an 89-game series rivalry against the New Orleans Saints. The contest was filled with clutch plays in all three phases, highlighted by a record-setting day for both Ryan, who became the franchise leader in career passing TDs (156) and single-game passing yards (448) and Falcons WR Roddy White, who moved into a second-place tie with former Falcons WR Andre Rison, for most-career TD receptions as a Falcon (56). The back-and-forth contest went into overtime, where Falcons S William Moore forced a Saints fumble, recovered by LB Joplo Bartu, leading to a game-winning 52-yard FG by Falcons K Matt Bryant, his third clutch kick in the 37-34 victory.