The Forgotten Classic: Falcons Upset Vikings in '98 NFC Championship

Joshua Skaar@@JoshSkaarCorrespondent IJune 15, 2008

The 1998 NFL playoffs had seen its share of drama in the weeks preceding Championship week.

The San Francisco 49ers pulled off a stunning last-second comeback over the Green Bay Packers.

The Arizona Cardinals upset the Dallas Cowboys.

The surprising Atlanta Falcons escaped a Divisional round battle against the 49ers by winning 20-18.

But the powerhouse Minnesota Vikings (15-1) and Denver Broncos (14-2) dominated their way through the season and their Divisional opponents. Denver held the Miami Dolphins to just three points in a 35-point victory, whereas the Vikes beat the Cardinals 41-21.

The two teams seemed destined to meet in Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami.

But destiny was not on Minnesota's side.

The upstart Atlanta Falcons were lead by running back Jamal Anderson, who topped the NFC in rushing yards (1846) and TDs (18.) They were the first 14-2 team in NFL history to not host the championship game and were 11-point underdogs according to Vegas odds-makers.

This only fueled the idea that the Falcons were just another stepping stone to a showdown between the Vikings and Broncos.

But Atlanta scored on their first possession of the game. Marching 80 yards in only five plays.

Atlanta's passing defense never allowed rookie sensation Randy Moss to get into a groove, with veteran corner Ray Buchanan having exclusive coverage on the '98 season's unanimous Rookie of the Year.

Just before halftime, the Vikings were looking to seal the deal. With just over a minute left in the half and the ball on their own 18-yard line, the offense failed in two long passing plays.

Then on the third consecutive down-field pass attempt, Randall Cunningham could only stand there as defensive end Chuck Smith beat left tackle Todd Stuessie off the ball and forced a fumble. The ball was recovered by the Falcons' defense on the Vikings' 14 yard-line.

Atlanta scored on a passing play from Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis, making the halftime score 20-14.

The Vikings moved ahead in the contest 27-20 with 2:07 left between them and a date with the defending champion Denver Broncos. Enter Gary Anderson, AKA Mr. Perfect. Anderson was the first kicker in NFL history to have not missed a field goal—going 35 for 35—throughout an entire NFL season.

As Anderson lined up to put the game out of reach it seemed certain that this 38-yard chip shot was a done deal. But as fate (if you believe in that sort of thing) would have it, the kick sailed wide left. The miss gave the Falcons one final shot at forcing overtime. And they did not falter.

The drove the ball 72 yards and scored after several defensive miscues by the Vikings' vulnerable secondary.

Once in OT it appeared that fatigue was beginning to take it's toll on both teams. Then, finally, the Falcons moved the ball into the "high-percentage" range of kicker Morten Andersen and he nailed the 39-yard field goal making the improbable a reality.

Beating the Minnesota Vikings at home in the Minnesota Metrodome, a place where they had gone 9-0 before the Falcons proved that you can have all the talent in the world.

But what truly matters is heart.


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