Time Machine: Falcons-Bears History Lesson

Only one game separates these two NFC combatants in this series as the Falcons try to even it up on Sunday with a win over the Bears to equal 13 victories each.

The series dates back to Atlanta's first season in 1966 with the Birds falling in Week 11 in Chicago 23-6 in its very first encounter with the Bears.

The Falcons own a 2-1 record in three games played in the series since QB Matt Ryan arrived in 2008, including a thrilling, come-from-behind 22-20 win that Ryan engineered in the Georgia Dome as a rookie for his second straight "Matty Ice" comeback moment of his young career in just his sixth pro game. (Ryan helped defeat Green Bay 27-24 the week before.)

On November 23, 1980, another young Falcons quarterback took center stage against the Bears and delivered. Steve Bartkowski was the star of the game, tossing three touchdowns, but it was his first scoring toss that put his name in the record books.

After the Bears took an early 10-0 lead, Bartkowski ended a second quarter drive with a seven-yard touchdown strike to WR Alfred Jenkins to close the gap. The pass was Bart's 21st touchdown of the season establishing a new team single-season high.

A controversial play happened in the third quarter which enabled the Falcons to seize control of the game and turn the momentum in their favor.

With Chicago holding a slim 17-14 lead, the Bears recovered a Falcons fumble on a kickoff return and were seemingly sitting pretty at the five-yard line. Future Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton took a handoff around left end and made it to the one-yard line before fumbling. A disbelieving "Sweetness" protested the fumble call by the officials so much that he was ejected him from the contest.  

The Falcons were back at practice today in preparation for their return to the Georgia Dome to take on the Chicago Bears.

Unable to take advantage of their opportunity immediately after the Payton fumble, Atlanta wasted no time the next trip down the field. Bartkowski lofted a nice 42-yard pass to Jenkins and the Falcons added another score late in the game on a RB William Andrews nine-yard touchdown grab to give Bartkowski three scores on the afternoon.

Before Payton left in controversial fashion, the Falcons defense held him to just 40 yards on the ground. It marked the third straight time that the Birds limited the phenomenal runner to 40 yards or less in a game in this series.

With Payton out of the lineup, Chicago's offense sputtered and didn't score again suffering a 28-17 defeat.

For the Falcons, the victory was their 6th in-a-row on the way to a then-team record eight straight wins to close out the regular season and claim their first Division crown (NFC West) in team history with a 12-4 overall record.

Bartkowski would continue his torrid pace the rest of the season, breaking several team records such as passing yards (3,544), completions (257), and attempts (463), in addition to overall touchdown passes (31). The 31 touchdowns through the air would last for 32 years until Ryan would eventually pass that mark with, ironically, 32 scores of his own in 2012.

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