The Atlanta Falcons overcame a lot of history with their 30-17 domination of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The win in Philadelphia was the first in 24 years for the Falcons. Andy Reid's post-bye win streak was halted at 13. And, the Falcons reached 7-0 for the first time in team history.
But it was Matt Ryan who wrote the final page for one of the most tumultuous chapters in the Atlanta Falcons' history.
Atlanta's Love/Hate Relationship with Michael Vick
Michael Vick's off-the-field indiscretions are well documented, but his on-the-field indiscretions were severing ties long before his incarceration. The breaking point for many fans came after Vick revealed he did not give his all on Sunday, January 1, 2006.
Vick's half-hearted effort on that day meant little to him. The team had been eliminated from playoff contention the week before. A 44-11 beatdown by the Carolina Panthers had no bearing on the fact the season was over. Except to the fans.
Heading into the game, the Panthers had never beaten Mike Vick in the Georgia Dome, and history was on the line. After a playoff run in 2004, the Falcons were sitting at 8-7 with one game to play. Atlanta had a chance to have back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. Instead, Atlanta fans endured a near riot as Carolina fans celebrated.
After this game, Falcons fans became even more polarized in support of Mike Vick. Vick became a daily topic on Atlanta sports radio with fans and hosts constantly bickering about statistics and wins. But Vick's magic was undeniable. Even those who condemned him still marveled at his undeniable talent.
Even as Vick made his way to federal prison, the years of bickering and defending had ingrained an unconditional devotion to Vick by a segment of Atlanta Falcons fans.
Matt Ryan Deserved Better
In 2007, the Atlanta Falcons served as a punching bag on and off the field. From Vick's conviction to Petrino's exit, it was one of the worst years in all of sports. Those with faith might say, "Everything happens for a reason."
In 2008, the Atlanta Falcons spent their first-round pick on quarterback Matt Ryan. The majority of fans were disappointed and had hoped for a defensive lineman in the first round. Amazing how silly that seems now. Matt Ryan would help resurrect the franchise by winning Rookie of the Year honors and leading the Falcons to the playoffs.
In 2009, Matt Ryan got a taste of Atlanta's unresolved feelings for Mike Vick. An injured Ryan stood on the sideline of the Georgia Dome when Mike Vick, now with Philadelphia, took the field. A large portion of the "home" crowd exploded with cheers. All Matt Ryan could do was watch as Atlanta Falcons fans cheered on the enemy in what was a 34-7 embarrassment by the Eagles.
On January 3, 2010, the Falcons would face division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. With a sense of deja vu, the Falcons stood at 8-7 and eliminated from the playoffs. In his second year, Matt Ryan was still struggling against Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2. Yet Ryan left nothing on the field that day. He gave the Falcons and their fans everything he had and their first consecutive winning seasons.
Atlanta Closes the Book on Michael Vick
In the past five years, the landscape of sports debate in Atlanta has changed drastically. Fans, sports writers and talk radio argue whether the quarterback is "elite" instead of arguing whether the starter is better than his back up. (Matt Schaub is doing quite well in Houston by the way.) For the majority of those who root for or cover the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Vick's magical days seem like they were in another life.
So, the national media's fascination with Mike Vick playing his former team seemed misplaced to those who follow the Falcons closely. As Matt Ryan dismantled the struggling Eagles, comparing the two quarterbacks seemed even odder given Ryan's track record of comeback wins.
In the waning minutes of the game, Mike Vick was trying desperately to make something happen. But the magic was gone, and so was Vick's Atlanta legacy.
Matt Ryan is busy rewriting the record books for Atlanta and charting the path of the future. And one can not help but feel that on Sunday, Ryan penned the final footnote in the Mike Vick chapter of Atlanta Falcons history.
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