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Time Machine: Trying to repeat history


Looking for their first win in Cleveland in 39 years in only their sixth trip to the "Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame" city in their 45-year team history, the Falcons can take a peek at their past for some inspiration this week.

Atlanta traveled to Cleveland on Oct. 31, 1971 on an unusually balmy day with the game time temperature at 71 degrees, and took a page out of the Falcons head coach Mike Smith's current playbook under the heading: Fast Starts. (Smith's Falcons are 18-6 in games where they score first).

The Birds won the coin toss and proceeded to take the opening kickoff 58 yards to the Browns 42-yard line. Three players later, quarterback Dick Shiner tossed a 39-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Ken Burrow and the Falcons were on the board, 7-0.

Their good fortune would continue as the defense took the field for the first time. On Cleveland's third offensive play, QB Bill Nelson was picked off by Atlanta linebacker Don Hansen and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. So after six plays from scrimmage, the Falcons held a 14-0 advantage and there was still 11 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Atlanta would build an insurmountable 21-0 first half lead behind another Shiner touchdown pass (to tight end Jim Mitchell) and the Birds would never look back in posting a 31-14 victory. The win would be the team's first road triumph in an AFC city in franchise history. The Falcons would make it two in-a-row against the AFC with a 9-6 victory at Cincinnati a week later.

Since Mike Smith's first season in Atlanta in 2008, the Birds are one of the best teams in the NFL in scoring on their first possession with 84 points scored in 36 games. Fast starts have been a staple with his teams and setting the early tone is a priority.

With the current Browns feeling confident and fresh off their first win of the season last week against the Bengals, the Falcons hope to get off to a fast start in front of what should be a raucous Cleveland Stadium crowd this Sunday. And the Birds are hoping that a little history can repeat itself.

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