Counting Down the Atlanta Falcons' 10 Best Wins of the Mike Smith Era

Al BruceContributor IApril 10, 2017

Counting Down the Atlanta Falcons' 10 Best Wins of the Mike Smith Era

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
    Last week we played bad cop and counted down the 10 worst losses of the Mike Smith era in Atlanta. It wasn't pretty, and we're sure we brought up bad memories for some of you.
    Since it's Friday, we decided to flip the script and run down the 10 best victories of the Mike Smith era.
    To come up with these rankings, we evaluated each of Smith's victories based on their significance at the time the games were played, the quality of the opponents, where the games were played and how the games were won.
    Falcons head coach Mike Smith has taken some heat for this miserable season, but he's still the winningest coach in Falcons' history.
    Here's our opinion on which wins constitute Smith's 10 best victories in Atlanta.
    All historical references are via pro-football-reference.com.

10. 2008 Regular Season, Week 6 vs. Chicago Bears

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Falcons 22, Bears 20
    Why This Win Makes the List
    Atlanta's 2008 victory over Chicago finds itself on the list largely because of the late-game fireworks that capped off what was otherwise a routine conference game.
    This game was only the team's sixth game under Mike Smith, but it foreshadowed a lot of what we'd see from Smith's squad over the next five-and-a-half seasons.
    The Falcons had a nine-point advantage in the fourth quarter against the Bears, but Chicago came back and took its first lead of the game after quarterback Kyle Orton found Bears receiver Rashied Davis in the end zone with 17 seconds left on the clock.
    Thanks to an ill-advised Bears squib kick, however, quarterback Matt Ryan was able to throw a flawless sideline pass to Atlanta receiver Michael Jenkins just inside of field-goal range with a single second remaining.
    After that, Falcons kicker Jason Elam redeemed an earlier miss and nailed the game-winner.

9. 2010 Regular Season, Week 13 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    J. Meric/Getty Images
    Falcons 28, Buccaneers 24
    Why This Win Makes the List
    Atlanta brought a 9-2 record into Tampa to take on an upstart 7-4 Buccaneers squad in a game that had significant playoff implications for both teams.
    The Bucs appeared to have the Falcons on the ropes early in the fourth quarter when Tampa scored a touchdown on a trick play to go ahead 24-14, but Falcons kickoff returner Eric Weems brought the ensuing kickoff back 102 yards, silencing the crowd and getting Atlanta right back in the game.
    The Falcons' defense forced a 3-and-out on Tampa's next series, and when Matt Ryan got the ball back, he marched the offense down the field for the game's deciding touchdown.
    Former Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes sealed Atlanta's comeback when he intercepted Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman to kill Tampa's final drive.

8. 2012 Regular Season, Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images
    Falcons 30, Eagles 17 
    Why This Win Makes the List
    Atlanta entered this game unblemished at 6-0, but much of the national media attention leading up to this matchup focused on an Eagles' squad that was playing like it was on the verge of a major implosion.
    Despite how inconsistent the Eagles had been before this game, then-Eagles coach Andy Reid had never lost following a bye week like the one that both teams had prior to this contest.
    In addition, the Falcons hadn't won a game in Philadelphia since 1988. Given Reid's record of success following bye weeks, Atlanta's prior history in Philly and the perception that the Falcons played a weak schedule, the 6-0 Falcons were actually three-point underdogs against a 3-3 Eagles team.
    Feeling slighted, the Falcons jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back on the way to a convincing 30-17 victory that didn't play out as closely as the final score may suggest.
    With the win, the Falcons exorcised some old demons in a city that tormented the team and its fans several times in the past decade (2003 Divisional Playoff, 2005 NFC Title Game, 2008 Regular Season and 2010 Regular Season).

7. 2008 Regular Season, Week 12 Carolina Panthers

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    Falcons 45, Panthers 28
    Why This Win Makes the List
    Even though they came into this game with a 6-4 record, there was a general feeling amongst the fanbase that this 2008 Falcons squad had already overachieved. At this point, the playoffs were still largely viewed as an outside possibility for Atlanta.
    That perception changed when the Falcons out-muscled the 8-2 Carolina Panthers in this game and pulled to within a game of the NFC South division lead a year after, going 4-12 in 2007.
    The two biggest highlights of this game occurred in the fourth quarter. With Altanta clinging to a 24-21 lead, Falcons coach Mike Smith opted to forgo a chip-shot field-goal attempt and sent his offense onto the field facing a 4th-and-goal from the Carolina 1-yard line. Facing a loaded box, former Falcons running back Michael Turner barreled into the end zone to give Atlanta a 10-point lead.
    When the Panthers were forced to punt on their ensuing drive, Falcons receiver Harry Douglas fielded the kick and raced down the field for a back-breaking 61-yard punt return touchdown that ignited an eruption in the Georgia Dome.

6. 2008 Regular Season, Week 15 vs. Buccaneers

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    Falcons 13, Buccaneers 10 (OT) 
    Why This Win Makes the List
    There was plenty at stake in the second late-season clash between the Falcons and Buccaneers to make our list.
    Both the 9-4 Bucs and the 8-5 Falcons were coming off of disappointing divisional losses, and each team knew it needed a victory to help secure its spot in the postseason.
    This hard-hitting, tightly played game went into overtime, thanks to a field goal by then-Buccaneers kicker Matt Bryant.
    In overtime, Atlanta's defense stopped Tampa on its first possession, thanks to a fourth-down sack by former Falcons defensive end John Abraham. The Falcons relied heavily on Michael Turner's legs on the ensuing drive, and Turner delivered by putting Falcons kicker Jason Elam in position to kick and make the game-winning field goal.

5. 2010 Regular Season, Week 10 vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Falcons 26, Ravens 21
    Why This Win Makes the List
    This game was the first and only regular season matchup between 2008 draft classmates Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. Both quarterbacks had led their teams to identical 6-2 records headed into the contest, and the game represents the first prime-time nationally televised contest to appear on our list.
    The Falcons held a 13-point lead on two different occasions in the game, but the fact that they'd settled for field goals earlier in the game came back to hurt them when the Ravens scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to grab a 21-20 lead with a little more than a minute left in the game.
    When Atlanta got the ball back at its own 20-yard line with one timeout remaining, the offense ran seven plays (aided by a Baltimore timeout and a pass-interference penalty) before Matt Ryan found receiver Roddy White for a game-winning, 33-yard touchdown pass with less than half a minute remaining on the clock.

4. 2011 Regular Season, Week 2 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Falcons 35, Eagles 31
    Why This Win Makes the List
    This game may have occurred too early in the season to be ranked this highly, but context is more important here.
    The Falcons came into the 2011 season with high expectations after moving up in the draft to take star wide receiver Julio Jones, but the team had fallen flat on its face in a 30-12 loss to Chicago the week before this game.
    Meanwhile, former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was playing as well as he's played in his career and was set to bring what had been proclaimed to be a "dream team" into Atlanta for a Sunday Night Football game on NBC.
    This game marked Vick's first appearance in Atlanta as a starter and the first head-to-head matchup between Vick and Matt Ryan.
    Besides the risk of falling to 0-2, the Falcons faced the possibility of re-opening some old wounds amongst the fanbase if the Eagles were able to come in and dominate the Falcons behind Vick's arm.
    The night was full of fireworks as both teams exchanged big plays, but it was Philadelphia that had a 31-21 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
    With Vick out of the game due to a collision with his own lineman in the third quarter, all eyes turned to Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense.
    Atlanta's offense buckled down and Ryan delivered, as the team executed two consecutive fourth-quarter touchdown drives to pull off the victory.

3. 2012 Regular Season, Week 15 vs. New York Giants

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
    Falcons 34, Giants
    Why This Win Makes the List
    Atlanta has faced its share of skepticism from the national media over the years, but that skepticism may have been merited prior to this matchup of the Falcons (11-2) and Giants (8-5), given what New York had done to Atlanta in the playoffs nearly a year earlier.
    With that in mind, the Falcons proved that "revenge is a dish best served cold" when they dismantled a Giants team that desperately needed a win to stay in the playoff race and defend its title.
    The rout began when Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning on the second play of the game and ended when Falcons backup quarterback Luke McCown took a knee at the Giants' 6-yard line with Atlanta in front 34-0.
    With the win, the Falcons completed a rare sweep of the NFC East divisional slate on their conference schedule.
    Perhaps most importantly, Falcons coach Mike Smith notched a victory over two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Coughlin.

2. 2010 Regular Season, Week 3 at New Orleans Saints

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images
    Falcons 27, Saints 24 (OT) 
    Why This Win Makes the List
    The Falcons beat the Saints with Sean Payton on the sideline. Do we really need to give anymore justification?
    In the season following the Saints' Super Bowl victory, the team was off to a 2-0 start and looked to be well on its way to running through the NFC again. Atlanta came into this game at 1-1 following a blowout win at home against Arizona and an overtime defeat to quarterback Dennis Dixon's Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
    As is customary between these two teams, they remained tied or within a single score of each other for much of the contest.
    Atlanta was ahead 24-21 late in the fourth quarter when their defense (and the game clock) tightened in the red zone and forced New Orleans to kick a game-tying field goal from Atlanta's 15-yard line with nine seconds to go.
    The Saints got the ball after Atlanta went three-and-out on its first possession in sudden-death overtime, but fortune smiled on the Falcons when Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal that would have won the game.
    Matt Ryan took the Falcons down the field for a field goal on the game's ensuing possession, and Falcons kicker Matt Bryant delivered the victory after Sean Payton's attempt to ice him failed miserably.
    This win is still Mike Smith's only victory in New Orleans in six seasons.

1. 2013 NFC Divisional Playoffs vs. Seattle Seahawks

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Falcons 30, Seahawks 28 
    Why This Win Makes the List
    After three disappointing results in his first three trips to the postseason, Mike Smith's first playoff win has to top this list.
    The red-hot Seahawks were playing like game busters, and no one would've been too surprised if they had come in and beat the top-seeded Falcons.
    The game was full of memorable plays early in the game for Atlanta as the team built a 20-point lead. Roddy White beat Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman for a long touchdown catch, and Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers steamrolled Seahawks safety Earl Thomas on a 45-yard run.
    The Falcons, however, appeared to be headed for the most heartbreaking loss in franchise history when Seattle came roaring back to take a 28-27 lead with a little more than half of a minute remaining on the clock.
    Much like he did earlier in his career against the Bears in the regular season, Matt Ryan threw two flawless passes to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez (thanks in large part to a key block from Jacquizz Rodgers in pass protection) to set up Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal.