This week is Fan Appreciation Week for the Atlanta Falcons, and there is plenty to be appreciative of.
It's been a tough year on the field, but the Falcons fan base is still passionate and relentless as ever in its desire for a championship. In the years where they sense a championship is possible, Falcons fans can provide true momentum to help the team reach its ultimate goal.
As the Falcons prepare to play their final home game this season, let's take a look back at five moments where the fans made a big difference.
5. Fans give Falcons a Super Bowl sendoff to remember
Prior to the Falcons departing for Houston and a matchup with the Patriots in the Super Bowl, thousands of fans gathered at Atlantic Station to wish the team luck. It was a true moment of support from those who hoped for a storybook ending to cap a magical season, and a moment that was not forgotten by the team.
"When the buses turned the corner and you felt the energy and the roar of everybody and the horns blaring from the buses, the people yelling," coach Dan Quinn said. "The signs, I think were one of the things that stood out to so much. People were holding up inspirational messages to players and to the team. It was during that 5-, 10-minute sequence that you realized how connected the team and the city is."
4. Matt Ryan earns first playoff win in 2012 vs. Seahawks
Atlanta rode a dominant 2012 season into the playoffs, finishing with a 13-3 record and securing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. At that point in his career Matt Ryan had yet to win a playoff game, but he booted that monkey off his back with a little help from Matt Bryant. A furious 21-point rally from Seattle gave the Seahawks an improbable one-point lead with under a minute to play. Ryan led the team on one final drive before Bryant drilled a 49-yard field goal to secure the win.
"That was a big kick," Bryant said of the kick. "For me, for the team, for the franchise. And for all of the fans. You could feel the emotion after that kick … To be able to go out there and be able to reward them with that kick and a chance to go to the NFC Championship was a big thing."
3. Falcons blowout Rams in 2004 playoffs
The Falcons made the playoffs after the 2004 season, the second playoff berth for Atlanta of the Michael Vick era. For the first time during Vick's run, however, the Falcons had a home playoff game, and boy did the fans show up to support their team. As the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, the Falcons had a first-round bye before hosting the then-St. Louis Rams and what was considered The Greatest Show on Turf.
It was the Falcons who put on a show on the night of Jan. 15, however. In front of an electric home crowd, Atlanta jumped out to a 28-17 lead at halftime and slammed the door shut on St. Louis and running away with a 47-17 victory. The chants of "A-T-L" could be heard loud and clear as fans walked down the long, winding stairwells while exiting the Georgia Dome.
2. Deion Jones jumps out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to beat the Saints
The Falcons have not even been in their new home two full seasons, yet they already have a signature moment. Atlanta battled against the New Orleans Saints on "Thursday Night Football last season, and the game, as they often do, came right down to the wire. Holding on to a 20-17 lead, the Falcons needed to get one stop against the Saints offense. But against Drew Brees, that's often easier said than done.
That is, unless you have Deion Jones on the other side. As he's done through the early part of his career, Jones made a big play against Brees that secured a victory for Atlanta. The Saints had the ball at the Falcons' 11-yard line with 1:30 remaining in the game. They were assured at least a field goal and the tie, but many in the stadium had seen this show before. Perhaps that why the fans erupted into a roar that could be heard all the way in New Orleans after Jones leapt into the air to secure a win for the Falcons against their hated rival.
"As soon as it happened, you could hear the crowd," Jones said. "Especially from the replays, you could hear the crowd. Everybody was into it, even our own sideline. It was great, especially against the Saints. It was great."
1. Falcons earn Super Bowl berth against Green Bay in 2016
After one of the most memorable seasons in Falcons history, Atlanta had a chance to reach its second Super Bowl in franchise history. To do so, the Falcons would have to knock off the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. For many Falcons fans, Aaron Rodgers was the last man they wanted to see enter the Georgia Dome, remembering the last time he did so in the playoffs.
Determined to come out on top against Rodgers and the Packers, the Falcons fans filed into the Georgia Dome one last time and nearly brought the stadium down themselves. That energy propelled Atlanta to a 44-21 victory and a spot in the Super Bowl, sending the Dome out in style.
"The fans were really, really good," Matt Ryan said. "The atmosphere, it was just really fun. It was really fun to be a part of it, to be in it. You could feel the intensity in the entire building. When we got out and rolling to an early lead that momentum and that energy just kept us going. It was something that I'll always remember and certainly one of Atlanta's best moments."