Live from the Dome: One year later, those 11 seconds live on

As endings go, it was fairly rousing. And historic. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As endings go, it was fairly rousing. And transforming (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If not for those 11 seconds, a promising season might never have become much more. If not for those 11 seconds, we might still view the Falcons more with skepticism than belief. If not for those 11 seconds, we might yet be asking if Matt Ryan was the right man to draft. If not for those 11 seconds …

Enough. Those 11 seconds? They happened. The squib kick. The Harry Douglas return and flopdown. The short Ryan drop and the lovely Ryan rainbow. The Michael Jenkins catch and toe-dance along the sideline. The Jason Elam kick of redemption. (He’d missed a field goal that would have clinched it earlier.)

Eleven seconds changed certain defeat to a victory so outrageous it still beggars belief. ESPN.com dug out this nugget: Since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, it marked only the third time a team had taken a lead inside the final 15 seconds and lost. (The first time was on Tom Dempsey’s 63-yard field goal that beat the Detroit Lions in 1970. The second involved Quincy Carter, and not in a bad way.)

If not for those 11 seconds, the Chicago Bears make the 2008 playoffs. If not for those 11 seconds, the Falcons head into their bye week at 3-3 and sit around and wonder if all their good early work had been a mirage. If not for those 11 seconds …

Enough. That was last season. And now the Bears arrive again, and they’re better than they were a year ago. But so are the Falcons. These teams could well see each other again in January. This game might factor into something really significant, like a division title and a bye or even home-field advantage. The Bears are better because they have a new quarterback. The Falcons are better because they keep growing faster than Wilt Chamberlain in adolescence.

Five weeks ago we worried the Falcons might start slowly. They won their first two and looked good doing it. They looked less good in Foxborough in the rain, but that can happen in Foxborough. (Ask the Tennessee Titans how they enjoyed New England in the snow.) Being expertly coached, the Birds took the lessons absorbed against the Patriots and went to San Fran and stacked 45 points on the befuddled Niners, and wasn’t it just yesterday that the Falcons would lose 45-10 by the Bay?

These Falcons might or might not be in the Super Bowl come February, but this much is becoming clear: They’re going to be in that discussion, and not just this winter but in the winters to come. This is a team that transforms itself at every hurdle, that lives and learns. As good a GM as Thomas Dimitroff is, Mike Smith is that good a coach. These two aren’t going to let things go wrong for long.

Back to those 11 seconds: Had Ryan thrown an incompletion or Elam missed the winning kick, it wouldn’t have made TD or Smitty any less clever. But those 11 seconds were required to lift the New Falcons to a higher plane. And when you’re as moribund as this franchise had become, an up-from-oblivion moment is not just necessary but required.

The Falcons had their moment against the big-shouldered Bears, who’ve had 371 days to simmer. We stood amazed when the Falcons won that Sunday. Because of that Sunday, we’re no longer shocked by anything these Falcons do.

(And with that: I’m sitting live in the Dome, and I’ll be proud and pleased to entertain any and all — well, most all — comments as the night unfolds. Join me for yet another in our series of live chats, won’t you? And I guarantee this game will be better than the one at Vandy yesterday.)

(OK, now you’re asking: What if I’m wrong? What if this one’s even worse? Will I refund your money? Uh, no. But I’ll certainly offer another in a lifetime’s worth of apologies.)

1,434 comments Add your comment

bjfussell

October 18th, 2009
6:57 pm

bjfussell

October 18th, 2009
6:58 pm

yessss!! thats two blogs today!!!

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:00 pm

That’s the first double first, if I’m not mistaken. Kudos, BJF.

bjfussell

October 18th, 2009
7:02 pm

mark do you have an update on the status of ovie mughelli?

Sonny Clusters

October 18th, 2009
7:04 pm

Clusters don’t try to be first to blog but Clusters always come in pretty high up. We was state championship back when we was playing ball. Mike Smith may have been a state champion, too, as good as he coaches. The running game needs to be good tonight for the Falcons. Good running games makes for good passing games.

RomeDawg

October 18th, 2009
7:07 pm

Is it just me or does anybody else keep waiting for “that bad thing” to happen to us. It doesn’t seem possible after years of Vick, Petrino, D Hall, E Robinson and Smith Family (owners) that we could have years of success. As a life long Falcons fan, I have never seen us in this good shape. God DOES love the Falcons!

Hey Mark…..What’s the Dome like? Fans ready?

Sonny Clusters

October 18th, 2009
7:09 pm

We was posting and suddenly our post went away and we was so confused we didn’t know what was wrong and we hit the submit button and nothing happened and then we refreshed the page and that didn’t work and so we are trying it again. If a Clusters can’t make it work some of these football fans is never going to get a post to stick.

BraveCat

October 18th, 2009
7:11 pm

Why is it so important for people to say FIRST!?!?!?!?!

Sonny Clusters

October 18th, 2009
7:12 pm

When a reporter gets to the stadium early for a game they can go to the press box snack table and eat some real fine cheese and crackers and some Canada Dry. When we worked for the paper we would sometimes put some cheese and crackers in our coat pockets but we stopped doing that when we forgot one night to take that cheese out of the pockets and when we wore that coat the next time no one would sit with us but that could have been because we was a journalist.

Ree Roe

October 18th, 2009
7:13 pm

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:14 pm

Everyone’s a winner in this game, folks. Even if you’re one thousandth and first. It’s all about self-esteem on here.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 18th, 2009
7:15 pm

Birds must keep pace with the N.O. Katrina’s. They appear to be just as devistating.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:15 pm

Pretty good tale, Mr. Clusters. And it registers with me, seeing as how Mrs. Bradley upbraided yours truly for leaving some ancient cheddar in the fridge.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:16 pm

New Orleans looks really good. And the Falcons go there on Monday night in two weeks.

Sonny Clusters

October 18th, 2009
7:17 pm

When we was younger we met Tommy Nobis and he was still pretty strong and looked like he could play some. Coach said Tommy Nobis was about the only good player the Falcons had for a long time. Linebacking is pretty important on the football field but no Clusters ever played linebacker. We was at the skill positions.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:18 pm

Tommy Nobis still looks good and strong. He’d be in the running for greatest Falcon ever.

Kelly Johnson Fan Club

October 18th, 2009
7:20 pm

Was it cold in Nashville, Mark? You missed a classic in Atlanta, but my fingers almost fell off.

NikkiFree

October 18th, 2009
7:24 pm

Mark,
Is Brian williams suiting up tonight?

Dawg'em out!

October 18th, 2009
7:25 pm

falcons need to get some help from the 12th man, these 2 team have about the same #’s. though atl does have a better return game due to the bears coverage being suspect. special teams, and t/o margin will determine the outcome of this game. though ‘if’ Falcons score early, the crowd should affect the bears. especially with john abraham calling out the atl fans after last yr game this past week.

Falcons by 12

TheManMike

October 18th, 2009
7:25 pm

Mark-

Do you know if there is any validity to the rumors running around of TD looking to possibly trade JA98 for Glenn Dorsey??

Dawg'em out!

October 18th, 2009
7:27 pm

if the team continues to improve week in week out, and especially the special teams and D. the falcons have a shot at the upset in nawlins IMO.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:30 pm

Falcons inactives: Tye Hill (again), Ovie Mughelli, Antoine Harris, Spencer Adkins, Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds and Vance Walker. Snelling starts in place of Ovie. JP Wilson is the third quarterback.

Bears inactives: Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Bill Wade, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Doug Plank, Bobby Douglass.

Mitch (the one in Rome)

October 18th, 2009
7:30 pm

Mark, are fans showing up early? What is the feel in the Dome? What is your gut telling you about this game?

Saints Unstoppable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 18th, 2009
7:31 pm

The Saints ran a BUZZ SAW through the NUMBER 1 defense like they were the Georgia Bulldogs!

How do the Falcons even stand a chance if the Number 1 defense got embarrassed?

The Falcons better win tonight, because the Saints are not looking behind them and remember the Panthers 0-3 start? Well they are only 1 game behind the birds now.

Not looking good.

TheManMike

October 18th, 2009
7:32 pm

Agreed Dawg’em – If Oakland can upset Philly like they did today, anything is possible. And I by means am attempting to compare Oak with Atl – haha. The Giants looked REALLY off their game today.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:32 pm

We’re about 50 minutes from kickoff, Mitch, and not many folks are in their seats. That’s not unusual, though.

There were a lot of people downtown when I arrived a couple of hours ago, and a lot of them were wearing Bears clothing.

I think the Falcons will win. But not 45-10.

BraveCat

October 18th, 2009
7:33 pm

Oh so I have to have self-esteem?! I am a VT Hokie fan and we ALL know what happened last night. GO Falcons. Sheesh, I hope I did not just jinx them.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:33 pm

Mike, the Dorsey rumor has been going around since the draft (the 2009 one). I don’t know that there’s a shred of validity to it.

TheManMike

October 18th, 2009
7:33 pm

I like Snelling in the game. Hurts not having Ovie in there to block, but Snell is a more than adaquate backup. I am really looking forward to seeing more of that Roddy speed. Man he found a new gear last week.

ESPN Reports that if...................

October 18th, 2009
7:34 pm

“Ovie Mughelli” doesn’t play tonight, Matt Ryan will be spending the whole night looking up at the dome’s overhead and Mike Turner will have a very rough night.

Sonny Clusters

October 18th, 2009
7:36 pm

Mark, can you see Arthur Blank on the field? When we was playing ball Coach wouldn’t let the principal down on the field. She was pretty insistent about being down there in the state playoffs but Coach stood his ground.

TheManMike

October 18th, 2009
7:37 pm

I think JA98 is picking it up and the move to the inside is a gooooood thing. I don’t think a trade for Dorsey would do us much good.

Damn Bills missed their FG so we are forced to watch more, haha – Not a very fun game to watch IMO – and nothing else on the telly. (I dont have the cable)

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:38 pm

Arthur Blank is usually on the field before games. But there are about 1,000 people on the field tonight, and I haven’t spotted him yet.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 18th, 2009
7:38 pm

Mark, the greatest Falcon eveer was Billy Richtman.

Not Impressed

October 18th, 2009
7:38 pm

TheManMike

October 18th, 2009
7:33 pm
I like Snelling in the game. Hurts not having Ovie in there to block, but Snell is a more than adaquate backup. I am really looking forward to seeing more of that Roddy speed. Man he found a new gear last week.

Where have you been? Roddy has always had that speed, but you couldn’t tell because the qb has no deep down field arm strength, so how could he use his speed?

Sonny Clusters

October 18th, 2009
7:38 pm

He’s the one in the $3,000 suit.

Supes

October 18th, 2009
7:39 pm

Tony D. just threw Matt Ryan some very high praise coming his way, calling him a “young Peyton Manning”. Well all I can say is…from Tony’s mouth to God’s ears:)

He said that Matt Ryan’s accuracy, field vision and decision making is outstanding…eat that HATERS (who can’t get over their failed hero who is now a scrub backup else where).

Get ready for a great game tonight everyone…should be entertaining. Beat those bears!

Mitch (the one in Rome)

October 18th, 2009
7:40 pm

Thanks Mark! I’m thinking Ryan shines and takes his game to a new level on the national stage in game management and decision making. Big come out game for the birds tonight.

TheManMike

October 18th, 2009
7:41 pm

Not Impressed –

I watch every game and I still contend Roddy found a new gear last week. Last week was the start to his year. It doesnt take long balls to show your speed – as was evident last week.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 18th, 2009
7:41 pm

Overnight ratings in the Bama markets will be huge if NBC shows JPW.

Sonny Clusters

October 18th, 2009
7:41 pm

Could be on a horse. Saw a picture of him in the AJC on a horse.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:43 pm

If JPW gets in the game, something will have gone really wrong. Or really right.

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:44 pm

I guess the Falcons losing 26-10 in New England doesn’t look quite so bad after today, huh?

SamInAtlanta

October 18th, 2009
7:44 pm

Mark…great Wilt Chamberlain line…is that original?

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:44 pm

Bears take the field for warmups. Some cheers but loud boos.

The place is rocking tonight.

bjfussell

October 18th, 2009
7:45 pm

abraham and beerman need to slam cutler into the turf if atlanta is gonna shutdown da bears tonight. did yall watch the saints today? dang.That was the giants out there. shockey sure looked good against his old team

Mark Bradley

October 18th, 2009
7:45 pm

Sam, I sure hope it is. Thanks.

jacket3

October 18th, 2009
7:46 pm

come on guys….one game at a time,,,,

IlliniDawg

October 18th, 2009
7:46 pm

Damn!

Keith f-ing Olbermann! I gotta put this on mute until the game starts!!!

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 18th, 2009
7:47 pm

Mark, I speak for the entire planet sans his parents, JPW modeling a clipboard is just fine tonight.