I have been blessed with a family that shares my love for football. On Sunday afternoon, you can find every television tuned into a game and every computer following a fantasy team. For those who live with someone who does not understand what keeps you busy for over six hours every Sunday, I feel your pain.
You must be in a constant battle over the merits of watching grown men hit each other while trying to advance an odd-shaped ball down a rectangular field. We all know that football is much more than that, and this past Bears-Falcons game couldn't have been a more perfect example.
The Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears were among the two most surprising teams in the league before entering this game. The Falcons are one year removed from a certain dog-fighting incident and are led by their first-round draft pick, Matt Ryan. The Bears were predicted to have little to no success in 2008.
Before Sunday, Oct. 12, both of these teams were 3-2.
Officially, Chicago was given the advantage in this matchup. Unofficially, this was going to be a very close game.
It started out innocently enough. At halftime, only field goals had been scored, and the Falcons led 9-3. Chicago had been soundly beat in total yards from the first half but luck was on their side, as Atlanta couldn't find the end zone.
The final nine minutes of this game were as saturated with twists and turns as few have ever seen.
The Bears found themselves down by nine points with nine minutes left in regulation. The Kyle Orton-led Chicago team had just spent the last five-and-a-half minutes marching down the field and were at the Falcons' one-yard line facing a 3rd-and-goal situation.
Few things are more exciting in football than goal-line stands. 22 men lined up within inches of each other, both competing for completely opposite things. With just minutes left in this hour-long struggle, both sides knew this was going to be a turning point in the game, regardless of the outcome. The Bears had two opportunities to move the ball forward one yard.
Atlanta collapsed upon Chicago twice and refused to let the Bears penetrate their end zone. After the second goal-line stop, Falcon linebacker Keith Brooking emerged from the fray of bodies with his right hand thrust in the air.
The pendulum of momentum had swung back in favor of the home team.
The Falcons tried to keep it that way, but Chicago was determined to make a comeback. After a three-and-out, Atlanta was forced to punt the ball away. The Bears quickly sauntered up the field again and nailed a field goal. Under two minutes had left the clock and the score was 19-13, in favor of Atlanta.
With only one score separating these two teams, Chicago kicker Robbie Gould booted the ensuing kickoff two yards deep in the Atlanta end zone. Jerious Norwood returned that for 85 yards, the longest kick return of his career.
In between short Michael Turner runs up the middle, Chicago coach Lovie Smith and Atlanta coach Mike Smith were engaged in their own strategic battle. How much time should Lovie Smith allow to run off the clock? When should Mike Smith kick a field goal?
The Falcons ran over a minute off the clock before sending out kicker Jason Elam, who had not missed in 2008, for a potential game-sealing field goal. Astoundingly, Elam missed wide left. All bets were off.
The Bears had under three minutes and just one timeout to score a touchdown. If they could successfully accomplish that, they would be victorious. Quarterback Kyle Orton was facing his first true test as quarterback of the Chicago Bears. He had only one previous fourth-quarter game-winning drive, and the only question being asked in the Georgia Dome was, "Can he do it again?"
Using clock-management skills to rival Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Orton orchestrated a drive that resulted in a touchdown with just 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Bears now led by one point. You could almost hear the air being sucked from Atlanta fans. The atmosphere around these two teams were antithetical.
The Bears were absolutely ecstatic. Kyle Orton was running around the field with both arms outstretched, leaping into anyone who would catch him; a huge smile plastered on his face. Rashied Davis raised his arms in triumph. The comeback was complete; Chicago was a deadly team in the NFC.
Heads hung on the Atlanta sideline. Jason Elam was especially downtrodden. He had single-handedly booted this game to Chicago. He was the main scapegoat.
But there were still 11 seconds left. Let the emotional roller coaster continue.
Chicago kicker Robbie Gould squibbed the kickoff to Harry Douglas, who returned the ball to the Atlanta 45-yard line before being dragged down. Six seconds remained on the clock. To Chicago, these few ticks were the longest they have ever endured. To Atlanta, they went faster than they thought possible.
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan had six seconds to get the Falcons in position for a game-winning field goal. Did this 23-year old panic? Hardly.
At this time last year, Ryan could probably be found sitting in a class at Boston College. Now, he was in the process of getting laid out by Tommy Harris and Mark Anderson. That's 550 pounds against 220. Not entirely fair, but that didn't bother Ryan in the least.
He stepped up and threw a perfect spiral to Michael Jenkins, who proceeded to kill his legs and land his two feet in-bounds as he fell out. Even then, though, Ryan didn't celebrate. He just threw his arm forward and pointed to Jenkins with a half-smile and walked off the field, very much in control of his emotions. This isn't your ordinary rookie. Even now the emotional roller coaster was starting its downspin.
We all know what happened next. Jason Elam lined up for a 47-yard field goal and completed his trip from scapegoat to hero. He had atoned for his previous miss and had redeemed himself in the most extreme way possible.
The Bears were in shock as they hobbled off the field. Atlanta players, meanwhile, jumped on each other like they had just won the Super Bowl.
The tide had turned. Atlanta has become one of the most-feared teams in the entire league.
What elements of a perfect football game did I miss? Be sure to let me know what you think in the comment section below.
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