The job of an NFL defense is to do one simple thing: Prevent a team from scoring. In most cases, doing the first two will contribute to the third. And by these measures, the 1977 Falcons were better than anyone.
They hold the record for fewest points allowed in a 14-game season with 129. Simple.
It's relatively easy to stack them up against the two defenses generally considered to be the greatest of all-time, the aforementioned Ravens and Bears.
Points Allowed Per Game
1977 Falcons: 9.2
2000 Ravens: 10.2
1985 Bears: 12.1
See? Pretty simple.
But of course, people will say there are other components to a great defense. Like not allowing the other team to gain yards. Field position is important after all.
Yards Allowed Per Game
1977 Falcons: 231.6
2000 Ravens: 247.9
1985 Bears: 258.4
Okay, so they didn't allow a lot of total yards. What if that's just because their opponents didn't run a lot of plays?
Net Yards Per Play
1977 Falcons: 3.7
2000 Ravens: 4.3
1985 Bears: 4.4
Well, sure, holding a team in their place is important, but what about making big plays on their own? The kinds of plays that shift momentum.
Turnovers Per Game
1977 Falcons: 3.42
2000 Ravens: 3.06
1985 Bears: 2.84
The only major defensive category the 1977 Falcons weren't tops in compared to the other two was sacks.
Of course, the 1977 Falcons didn't make the playoffs. They didn't even have a winning record. Don't blame the defense for that though. It all lies with the offense.
Offensive Touchdowns Per Game (Regular Season)
1985 Bears: 2.75
1977 Falcons: 1.21
Field Goals Per Game (Regular Season)
2000 Ravens: 2.18
1985 Bears 1.93
1977 Falcons 0.92
Each of these defenses had something that summed up their season. For the 2000 Ravens, it was allowing just one defensive touchdown in four playoff games. The 1985 Bears had a similar streak, allowing just one touchdown in their three playoff games.
The moment that summed up the 1977 Falcons came when they played the Buffalo Bills in Week Five. The Falcons trailed 3-0 late in the fourth quarter when they blocked a punt and had a first down on the Buffalo 13-yard line. They ran four plays, failed to get a first down, and the game was over.
Where's Trent Dilfer when you need him?