FLOWERY BRANCH — When the league and the television networks have scheduled the Falcons on Monday Night Football, the franchise has traditionally been a major not-ready-for-prime-time performer.
The Falcons (1-0) will get a chance to improve their 9-24 (.273) MNF record when they face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (1-0) at 8:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
Both teams are ranked in the top 10 in the league power rankings by the Associated Press, ESPN.com and Pro Football Weekly. The Falcons are ranked 6th (ESPN.com), 7th (AP Pro 32) and 6th (PFW) while the Broncos are ranked 9th (ESPN.com), 6th (AP Pro 32) and 9th (PFW).
“This week is going to be a tough test for us,” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said.
The Falcons are 0-3 on MNF under head coach Mike Smith and have dropped their last six MNF games. Their last MNF victory was a 36-17 win over the Saints on Dec. 12, 2005.
Manning is a formidable MNF foe. He’s posted an 11-3 record on MNF.
He was strong last week against Pittsburgh in his comeback from a 20-month layoff because of neck surgery.
“I do think physically, he’s back,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. “He’s quick. He looks sudden. He looks natural under center.”
In their last MNF appearance, the Falcons gave up the league’s single-season record for most passing yards, to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in a 45-16 loss on Dec. 26, 2011.
The franchise’s MNF highlight occurred in 2005 when the Falcons became the first team to win three home games in a season with wins over the Eagles, (14-10, Sept. 9) Jets (27-14, Oct. 24) and Saints (36-17, Dec. 12).
That Jim Mora-led squad also had a pregame rumble with the Eagles. Philadelphia linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and Falcons defensive back Kevin Mathis were ejected before kickoff.
So, while the Falcons want to be fired up for the Broncos, they can’t get too excited and receive the Trotter-Mathis treatment from the replacement referees.
Even with the proliferation of Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday night games during the NFL regular season, Monday Night Football has maintained its allure with the players.
“That’s what you dream about growing up as a kid,” cornerback Asante Samuel said. “You want to be a superstar, a NFL star, a football player and you know that Monday Night is prime time, so you get excited about these games.”
Even for Gonzalez, who’s in his 16th year in the league, the Monday night game is still very special.
“It’s really cool,” Gonzalez said. “Your schoolteachers when you were little kids are watching. The people that you’ve lost touch with and the people that you still keep up with, they are all watching. So it’s a chance to shine on the national stage. Old girlfriends” are watching. ‘Look at me now!’ ”
The Falcons played all four of their exhibition games at night. They’ve been through that routine of sitting around all day before playing.
“You just can’t get anxious,” running back Michael Turner said. “You have to stay focused and not try to get yourself too worked up for the game. Sitting around, it’s a waiting game.”
The Falcons met with the producers and talent from ESPN on Saturday. They’ll have meetings in the morning before the game.
“It’s an all-day process,” Turner said. “We are going to study and prepare up until the last minute. Coach [Smith] is going to take advantage of every minute.”
The Falcons were one of three teams to score 40 or more points in Week 1.
If they are able to score on their first eight possessions like they did against the Chiefs, the Broncos would likely be in for a long evening.
“We are not anticipating that it’s going to be that routine like last week,” Gonzalez said. “They’ve got guys like Von Miller and (Elvis) Dumervil, so we’re going to have to protect Matt in order to get the ball down the field. Champ Bailey is one of the best ever to play this game.”
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