The Atlanta Falcons' 20 Greatest Games of All Time

Peyton YoumansCorrespondent IMay 2, 2009

21 Dec 1997:  Wide receiver Terrance Mathis of the Atlanta Falcons moves the ball during a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.  The Cardinals won the game, 29-26. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport

Though the Atlanta Falcons' 2009 was up and down, we can expect great things from them over the next few years with a solid young nucleus on both offense and defense. Let's take a walk down memory lane and look at some of the greatest Falcons wins of all-time...and hope we can add to this list soon!

20.  Falcons 20, Saints 17: November 12, 1978

Down 17 to 13 with just seconds left on the clock, the Falcons lined up in a trip set, and Steve Bartkowski threw it up for grabs. Wallace Francis tipped the ball to Alfred Jackson, who scampered into the end zone for the game-winning 57-yard touchdown, and “Big Ben Right” was born.

Just two weeks later, the Falcons again victimized the Saints with Big Ben by drawing a last-second pass interference call in the end zone which led to another 20-17 Falcons win.

That pair of victories propelled the Falcons to their first ever Playoff appearance.

19.  Falcons 14, Eagles 10: September 12, 2005

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Tempers flared in this opening-week MNF rematch of the 2004 NFC Championship game, as Kevin Mathis and Jeremiah Trotter were kicked out of the game during pregame warmups.

The Falcons took a 14-0 lead early and held off a furious Eagles rally to get the win.

18.  Falcons 41, Steelers 38: October 22, 2006

Here, the Falcons win a game in which they could have easily been blown out. The Steelers threw for 433 yards with five TD and no INT, but lost three critical fumbles.

Michael Vick threw for four TD for the first time in his career, and the Falcons won it in overtime on a 32-yard Morten Andersen field goal. 

17.  Falcons 27, Packers 7: January 4, 2003

The Falcons handed the Packers their first ever home-field postseason loss at snowy Lambeau field.

Michael Vick got most of the credit from the media for this one, but the defense and special teams were stellar in the upset.

16.  Falcons 40, Saints 34: September 2, 1979

The Falcons and Saints both amassed more than 500 yards of offense in the 1979 season opener, and the Saints held the lead until deep into the fourth quarter. They extended their advantage to double digits on four different occasions, but could not put the Falcons away.

The Falcons were led by William Andrews, who rushed for 167 yards in his first NFL game and gave the Falcons a 34-31 lead in the waning minutes with his first NFL touchdown.

The game went to overtime tied at 34 but then ended suddenly on a fluke play. With the Saints lined up to punt, the long snapper sailed the football over punter Russell Erxleben’s head. Erxleben hustled back to the end zone and tried to pick the ball up and throw an incomplete pass, but he hit James Mayberry right in the chest, and Mayberry walked into the end zone for the game winning score.

15.  Falcons 17, 49ers 14: November 11, 1991

This was an ugly football game with a beautiful ending. After Steve Bono connected with John Taylor on a 30-yard touchdown late in the fourth  quarter to give the Niners a 14-10 lead, Atlanta snatched the victory on the final play of the game when Billy Joe Tolliver connected with Michael Haynes on a 44-yard hail mary.

The Falcons and Niners both finished the '91 season 10-6, but the Falcons advanced to the Playoffs while the Niners stayed home, so this play turned out to be quite important in the end.

14.  Falcons 28, 49ers  27: December 24, 1995

Bobby Hebert came off the bench to lead the Falcons to a come-from-behind win in the final game of the season. He hit Terrance Mathis for the game-winning score in a contest Atlanta had to win to make the Playoffs.

Eventually, both the Falcons and 49ers would be knocked out of the Playoffs by the Green Bay Packers.

13.  Falcons 33, Cardinals 27: November 9, 1980

The Falcons trailed 24-6 at halftime in St. Louis but stormed back to send the game into overtime. Steve Bartkowski threw for 378 yards, and Ray Strong iced the game with a 21-yard touchdown in overtime.

This win kept alive a Falcons winning streak that would reach nine games and propel the squad to the No. 1 postseason seed,. Unfortunately, their opportunity was wasted when the team suffered a devastating defeat to the Dallas Cowboys.

12.  Falcons 27, Saints 20: December 28, 1991

Michael Haynes turned a short pass into an electrifying 61-yard touchdown score late in the fourth quarter, giving the Falcons their first ever road Playoff win.

11.  Falcons  47, Oilers 27: September 9, 1990

The Falcons suffered probably the worst three-year span of any NFL team in history from 1987-1989, as the team performed miserably and suffered through three player deaths. But in 1990, Jerry Glanville was hired, and he restored hope and energy to the franchise; he changed the Falcons uniform color to black, and the team traded for a flamboyant young receiver named Andre Rison.

In the opening game of the '90 season, the Falcons took out years of frustration on the Houston Oilers in front of a rowdy capacity crowd at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The Falcons led 21-0 after the first quarter and 34-7 after three quarters. Houston threatened to make a dramatic comeback in the final quarter with three consecutive touchdowns, but Deion Sanders iced the game with his first-ever interception return for TD.

The Falcons struggled to a 5-11 record that year, but the horrors of the Marion Campbell era had been washed away with the blowout of the Oilers.

10.  Falcons 34, 49ers 17: September 18, 1988

In the third week of the 1988 season, the Falcons travelled to Candlestick Park and scored the most stunning regular-season upset in team history. For one day, Chris Miller looked like the future HOF player and Joe Montana looked pedestrian.

The Falcons intercepted San Fran's storied QB three times in the game, and the outcome was never in doubt. Of course, this was the only game the Falcons won during the first half of the 1988 season, while the Niners went on to win the Super Bowl.

9.  Falcons 37, Saints 35: October 27, 2002

This game featured two spectacular touchdown runs by Michael Vick and six lead changes. New Orleans blew an early 10-0 lead, and the Falcons later blew their own double-digit advantage.

In the closing moments, Vick drove the team down the field in dramatic fashion for Jay Feely’s game-winning field goal on the final play of the game.

8.  Falcons 22, Bears 20: October 12, 2008

The Bears took the lead with only 11 seconds left in the game, but Matt Ryan hit Michael Jenkins on a perfectly executed sideline pass with only one second left. Jason Elam then nailed the game winner, and the legend of Matt Ryan was born.

7.  Falcons 34, Panthers 31: December 18, 2004

With the Falcons down seven points in the closing seconds, Michael Vick made an improbable touchdown run up the middle on fourth-and-goal from the 12-yard line.

Then, in overtime, Jake Delhomme threw a horrible interception to Aaron Beasley, and Jay Feely sealed the win with a 38-yard FG.

6.  Falcons 37, Cowboys 35: September 21, 1986    

The Falcons were a pretty horrible football team from 1984 to 1989, but the team gave fans hope briefly in 1986 by starting the season with consecutive blowouts against the Saints and Cardinals. Then, in Week Three, the Falcons travelled to Dallas to take on the undefeated Cowboys, and the teams staged an epic battle that featured seven lead changes.

David Archer hit Floyd Dixon with a miraculous bomb late in this contest to set the Falcons up for the go-ahead field goal with less than a minute left in the game. On the final play of the game, Danny White found Tony Hill on a deep crossing pattern that looked for a moment like it may go the distance. Bobby Butler was able to chase down Hill and push him out of bounds inside the Falcons' 15-yard line, sealing the win and preventing a most embarrassing ending for the Falcons.

The next week, the Falcons beat the Buccaneers to improve to 4-0, but a brutal home shut out at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in Week Five brought the team back down to earth. Atlanta stumbled their way to a 7-8-1 record on the season, and head coach Dan Henning was fired in favor of Marion Campbell.

5.  Falcons 14, Eagles 13: December 24, 1978

The Falcons trailed the Eagles 13-0 in the fourth quarter of their first-ever postseason game, but the offense came to life in the closing moments of the game, and Steve Bartkowski threw touchdown passes on consecutive possessions to secure a 14-13 Falcons lead.

Ron Jaworski drove the Eagles down the field for a potential game-winning field goal, but Eagles punter Mike Michel, filling in for injured kicker Nick Mike-Mayer, missed the 31-yard attempt to seal the victory for the Falcons.

4.  Falcons 30, Vikings 24: December 1, 2002

Even though Michael Vick broke several NFL rushing records in this game, it is mostly remembered for the last play: Vick’s breathtaking 46-yard touchdown run to win the game in overtime.

3.  Falcons 31, 49ers  19: November 15, 1998

The Falcons took a 24-6 lead early in the fourth quarter only to see the Niners storm back into the game with long touchdown passes to Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice. Then, with the Falcons on the verge of a monumental collapse, Dan Reeves made probably the gutsiest call of his entire coaching career.

Chris Chandler hit Terrance Mathis for a game-clinching 78-yard touchdown pass that propelled the Falcons to a 14-2 record and on to the Super Bowl. 

2.  Falcons 28, 49ers 24: November 20, 1983

This was a well-played contest on both sides that the Falcons won on the last play of the game with a hail mary to Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. This play was doubly sensational because Steve Bartkowski did not get the pass to the end zone; Billy caught the deflected pass on the five-yard line and had to weave his way around and through several 49er defenders before stretching to reach the ball into the end zone.

It was a very close play that might have been called differently if the league had replay in 1983, but thankfully for Atlantans that was not the case.

1.  Falcons 30, Vikings 27: January 27, 1999

Despite entering the NFC Championship game on a 10-game winning streak, the Falcons were huge underdogs to the 15-1 Vikings. Minnesota looked well on their way to blowing out the "Dirty Birds" until Atlanta forced a Randall Cunningham fumble right before halftime. Chris Chandler hit Terrance Mathis on the next play to pull the Falcons within six points (20-14).

The Falcons would get another huge break in the final few minutes of regulation when Gary Anderson suffered his only missed field goal of the season. Chandler then hit Terrance Mathis with the second game-changing TD in the closing moments of regulation, and we all know how the story end...or at least Falcons fans do.

That is how I see the Falcons' 20 greatest games of all time up until this point, but I fully expect this team to knock a couple of these games off the list this year with more terrific play.