Live from the Dome: The risen Falcons eye their culmination

A proud patron on Dec. 10, 2007. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A proud patron on Dec. 10, 2007. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It was a Monday night in December, and the Saints were in town. It was not a tough ticket. It was simply tough to watch.

It was Dec. 10, 2007. Earlier in the day Michael Vick had been sentenced to 23 months in jail by a judge in Richmond, Va. That night the team Vick used to lead lost to New Orleans 34-14 under the Georgia Dome to fall to 3-10. The next night would see Bobby Petrino, who had coached the Falcons those 13 games, being introduced as the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

For a franchise that had seen its share of valleys, that week — it closed with the Falcons losing 37-3 under interim coach Emmitt Thomas in Tampa — was the nadir. It was possible to view this city’s NFL entry as having nothing: No coach, no quarterback, no hope.

On a Monday night three years and 17 days later, the Falcons again played host to the Saints on a Monday night, and this time it wasn’t a occasion best avoided. It was, on the contrary, an event being billed as the biggest home regular-season in the Falcons’ 46 seasons of operation. Win and the Falcons would, in one fell swoop — and Falcons do swoop, last we checked — do all of the following:

• Beat their biggest rival, who happens to be the reigning Super Bowl titlist.

• Win their division for only the fourth time ever.

• Clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That the Falcons could actually lose to the Saints and still accomplish Nos. 2 and 3 on the above list by beating woeful Carolina here six days later meant nothing to the man who’d made all this happen. In January 2008 Falcons owner Arthur Blank had interviewed New England’s chief scout from Boulder, Col., via Webcam, and such was the impression Thomas Dimitroff made that he was named general manager.

Within 12 months, Dimitroff had hired a coach (Mike Smith) and signed a feature back (Michael Turner) and drafted a quarterback (Matt Ryan) and lifted this woebegone franchise, miracle of miracles, to the playoffs. From there the men of Dimitty and Smitty have moved from strength to strength: A second consecutive winning season under arduous circumstances last season, and now 12 victories over the first 14 games of 2010. Funny how much easier things work with folks of surpassing smarts in charge.

But back to Dimitroff on Monday afternoon: He lives in Buckhead, but he’d abandoned the family home. He called the director of team travel and asked for a room at the team hotel downtown, Dimitroff said, “so I can get some work done and return phone calls.” But he wasn’t too harried to read AJC.com — presumably the Falcons get complimentary wireless — and he felt compelled to ring one writer (i.e., me) and remind him of an unusually sunny forecast offered in preseason.

“You going to be there tonight?” Dimitroff said. Then: “It should be something.”

It was convenient in December 2007 to say that Vick’s indictment/incarceration had set the Falcons back three years. As it turned out, they made the playoffs in their first season under Dimitroff, and nearly every move since has sped the plow. The trade for Tony Gonzalez last year and the signing of Dunta Robinson this spring were moves that had to be made if the Falcons were to be taken seriously, and we saw in big-time tests against Baltimore and Green Bay how serious this team is.

And now it was a Monday night in December in the final week of calendar 2010, and a culmination was there to be grasped, a culmination nobody could have foreseen three years and 17 days ago. In December 2007 the operative emotion regarding the Falcons was pity. We feel sorry for them no more. We feel only admiration.

And with that, the floor is again open for questions, comments and Christmas caroling. I’ll be here all game, and I’d appreciate the company. It gets mighty lonesome with only 70,000 of my best pals around.

1,621 comments Add your comment

will

December 27th, 2010
7:14 pm

FalconFan

December 27th, 2010
7:15 pm

How nice is it that the Falcons are even in this position after the last two Vick years and the horrible 2007 season. It’s just nice to have a team, not in trouble, with proven professionals in charge both on and off the field and the desire to go to the top. Smith, Ryan, Turner, Gonzalez, White. Keep it up. Three straight winning seasons, two out of 3 in the playoffs. I am glad for today and so glad YESTERDAY is gone!

Brandon from Warner Robins

December 27th, 2010
7:15 pm

Evening. Mark.

I say these Falcons have come a long way over the last 3 years. But work still remains.
Dirty Birds To Dallas!

Sonny Clusters

December 27th, 2010
7:15 pm

We was hoping you’d be blogging tonight, Mark.

will

December 27th, 2010
7:16 pm

what is really amazing is this feeling that this could repeat for the next 5 years.

Having a coach who is as solid as they come, an owner committed but not meddlesome, and a GM who looks prescient beyond belief makes this even sweeter. I hope the magical 2010 season continues, but I honestly believe that this story could really happen again!

maybe less magic and more method?

Bullfrog

December 27th, 2010
7:17 pm

This Is going to be to be a tough one. I do believe that our steady and consistent Falcons will pull out a win. BTW, is this game going to be broadcast locally? No espn :(

coloradobulldog

December 27th, 2010
7:17 pm

Would love to see Roddy back up his words tonight. This game makes me nervous but again so did the Ravens game, the Packers game, the Rams on the road… Think we are gonna win cuz this team is special.

coloradobulldog

December 27th, 2010
7:19 pm

Bullfrog, I don’t have cable either. Hate to do advertising but for all the Falcons fans who want to see this game, go to http://channelsurfing.net/ and click the espn logo and you can watch it free on yoru computer.

JJ

December 27th, 2010
7:19 pm

Sonny Clusters

December 27th, 2010
7:21 pm

We was hoping you’d be blogging tonight, Mark. Mr Blank should be dressed nice because he’s gonna be on television a lot. Does he ever hug sportswriters?

coloradobulldog

December 27th, 2010
7:21 pm

This game makes me nervous… but again so did the Ravens game, the Packers game, Rams on the road…. This team is special.

MightyQuinn

December 27th, 2010
7:23 pm

What the Falcons still had, in the midst of the debacle three years ago, was an owner who cared. What happens on the field tonight all started with Arthur Blank when he emulated Ted Turner by hiring the right people and getting the hell out of the way (other than signing checks and appearing on the sidelines, that is).

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:26 pm

Here are the inactive players for the home side:

4 QB John Parker Wilson (3rd quarterback)

24 CB Dominique Franks

35 RB Antone Smith

59 LB Spencer Adkins

75 T Garrett Reynolds

79 G Mike Johnson

90 DE Lawrence Sidbury

97 DT Trey Lewis

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:26 pm

And for the visiting side:

15 WR Courtney Roby

28 S Usama Young

29 RB Chris Ivory

55 LB Danny Clark

71 T Charles Brown

85 TE David Thomas

93 DE Junior Galette

94 LB Kawika Mitchell

Flipcard changes:

56 Jo-Lonn Dunbar will start at SLB for 55 Danny Clark.

J Clay

December 27th, 2010
7:27 pm

Go Falcons (squared)!

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:27 pm

Mr. Blank has never hugged me, Mr. Clusters. But he does shake my hand often.

JJ

December 27th, 2010
7:28 pm

Mark, can you guesstimate % of falcon fans vs aints? And how full is it getting with an hr to go?

UGABugKiller

December 27th, 2010
7:28 pm

Bullfrog… It’s on ABC (which is part of the ESPN/Disney family.

Looking into the future, I see a lot of DogKilla fans who may not get their heart’s desires this year.

If the Eagles wrap up the 2nd OR 3rd seed, they’re gonna have to play the Bears or Packers in rounds 1 or 2.

Those are two teams (besides Atlanta and New Orleans) that can actually beat the Eagles. Doesn’t appear that the Giants will be making the playoffs, which has many DogKilla fans crying over drowned dogs.

For Atlanta, the hardest thing to do would be to play New Orleans three times in one year. The best thing for the Falcons would be to see the Bears/Packers (or Rams, wouldn’t that be awesome) in the 2nd round, and then the Bears/Packers for the NFC Championship Game.

Out of the AFC, the Falcons can actually stay on the field with the top of that league because the Patriots defense’s weaknesses play into the Falcons’ strengths.

Regardless of what happens, the Falcons need to be willing to break out the no huddle and be more aggressive on offense… ESPECIALLY when they have the lead.

The one thing that Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey do that is infuriating, illogical, and just down-right dumb is go into hibernation on offense when they get a lead.

In the playoffs, you CANNOT do this. You have to STAY AGGRESSIVE, and keep attacking. You can’t play it safe.

Play-not-to-lose offense in the playoffs will get you a ticket home REAL quick.

still@the bar

December 27th, 2010
7:29 pm

No need for the FALCON bag. The Aints created that look and will need them when they leave the Dome tonight.

JJ

December 27th, 2010
7:29 pm

And the vibe? Guessing off the charts…..

J Clay

December 27th, 2010
7:29 pm

The first set of Falcons now in the lead! A good sign of things to come tonight I hope

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 27th, 2010
7:29 pm

As close to a cities highspot as you can come ,eh Mark?

J Clay

December 27th, 2010
7:31 pm

I would not start commenting about the Patriots yet…Falcons have been very good this year but neither team is a shoo in to make the Super Bowl…however if they did I think the Pats would be favored by 7.5

still@the bar

December 27th, 2010
7:32 pm

Falcons will win no BAGS needed.

dawg4u

December 27th, 2010
7:33 pm

Even though the Saints need to win this game much more than the Falcons, it is still a huge game for the Falcons. We need to make a statement in this game and the fact that we have played so many close games this year bodes well for that. We are facing a team that is desperate to beat us and a fan base that totally hates the Falcons. The Birds need to put the petal to the metal and never let up. We have to win this game because we need to shut up the doubters at ESPN and Yahoo sports who have been saying that we’re a lucky team even though we’re 12-2. I think that Drew Brees and Matt Ryan are both good qb’s but have to give the edge to Brees. We have a better running game but the Saints do have Reggie Bush back now. The key is time of possession which we decisively won in September. Let’s GO FALCONS and play the way we are capable of and not get caught up in all the hype and doubters. Play our game and we will win another close game.

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:34 pm

The Dome is still filling up, JJ. It’ll get loud in a bit, I’m predicting.

Except I gave up predictions for the rest of calendar 2010. So forget I mentioned it.

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:35 pm

Not as many Saints fans here as usual, JJ.

jack bull

December 27th, 2010
7:37 pm

so, does anyone think we can beat the Saints 3 times in one year? i kinda believe we’ll have to do so, myself.. with that said, losing tonite wouldn’t be such a bad thing….

and am i the only who hates it when other teams come here and it’s like a home game to em…i can see this happening with Philly if and when Vick comes here too..and i really am going to hate that!

dave duval

December 27th, 2010
7:37 pm

I think it is said that the cover photo on ajc.com shows the Falcon’s fan wearing a Michael Vick jersey. I think it is great all the hype the game is getting, but wouldn’t it be better to have a picture of a Falcon’s fan with the number of a current good player like Ryan or White. Just saying.

still@the bar

December 27th, 2010
7:39 pm

CAN WE START FROM RIGHT NOW AND NOT USE MV7 or respond to the “Choke” MV7 fans tonight?

jacked jacket

December 27th, 2010
7:40 pm

SINCE GT SUCS!!!! Mark, what the latest on Roddy and Jon injuries tonight????

still@the bar

December 27th, 2010
7:40 pm

No Vick or Philly talk please.

JJ

December 27th, 2010
7:41 pm

Mark, have you seen as many #7 jerseys as usuall? Just wondering if the tide has changed some this yr , in case the annointed one comes back in a few weeks.

still@the bar

December 27th, 2010
7:42 pm

OK Mark no use of the “K” word. Just clean football.
Please Falcons make T. Dilfer eat all his words tonight.

dave duval

December 27th, 2010
7:42 pm

Just saying isn’t it sad that the AJC promotes the game on the front page of their online edition using the jersey of an ex player. In fact I don’t think anyone on the current roster currently wears this number.

5150 P.O.A.D.

December 27th, 2010
7:44 pm

Tech is killing me. Fumbles 2 punts in a rowna dgive Air Force a TD. Tech down by 7 and the clock running.

jacked jacket

December 27th, 2010
7:44 pm

SINCE GT SUCS!!!!! Mark, what is the latest injury report on Roddy and Jon for tonight????

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:44 pm

I haven’t seen many No. 7 jerseys. Looking now, I see a Turner, a Gonzalez, some Ryans, a Finneran, an Abraham and a couple of Roddy Whites. But no No. 7s.

jack bull

December 27th, 2010
7:45 pm

yes Dave, it is very sad…..come one AJC!!!!!!!!!!!!

Falcons Chic

December 27th, 2010
7:46 pm

I agree with Roddy on one point: Any sports show relying on Dilfer (and Millen) to report on the league is not viewing the situation with the same glasses I’m using.

JOHN

December 27th, 2010
7:46 pm

GO GO FALCONS GREAT TEAM 2010

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:47 pm

The injury report is that both are playing.

don

December 27th, 2010
7:47 pm

Thank you Mr. Blank for bringing to Atlanta a first class team. From the owner to the general manager to the coach, you are all stand up folks.

May God bless you all…….

jack bull

December 27th, 2010
7:47 pm

look at the front page of your employer Mark, there you’ll find the number 7 jersey…and you know as well as we do, that’s just plain wrong…

and i’m not the “complainer” type…

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2010
7:48 pm

I’m going to mention your gripes over the No. 7 jersey to our online folks.

St. Clarkston

December 27th, 2010
7:49 pm

I was dismayed at the stupidity of hiring Mike Smith and the folly of drafting Matt Ryan. In my own defense, I had suffered through three decades of total incompetence of the previous owners and management. I am so glad I was so wrong. Sure this team has some weaknesses (what NFL team doesn’t ?) but they play to win and expect to win.

Steve C

December 27th, 2010
7:50 pm

The trash talkers will pop up early in the game and blog about an Ryan incompletion or a Falcons punt and swear that’s the beginning of the end, but when the Falcons hold the ball for 40 minutes and are in the lead they will disappear and not be heard from again. Typical troll behavior.

JJ

December 27th, 2010
7:50 pm

Tks Mark.

ELMO – new falcons mascot, only one that predicted us to win from NFL Primetime.

Even Bellichek (MS brother in law) predict ‘aints. But mora jr (how in the he!! hes on the coaches corner) predicts the falcons. Wish it was the other way, no respect for jr but tons for Bellichek.

Reality Check

December 27th, 2010
7:51 pm

FalconFan

December 27th, 2010
7:15 pm
How nice is it that the Falcons are even in this position after the last two Vick years and the horrible 2007 season

____________________________________________

I think Vick is in a W-A-Y better place than the Falcons could ever dream of being.

The Eagles have already clinched their division in Vick’s 1st season as the starter, when it was a rebuilding year.

5150 P.O.A.D.

December 27th, 2010
7:51 pm

Washington Fumbles on the goal so no points. Machannan fumbles 2 punts back to back and Air Force gets the ball in the Red Zone and scores. Air Force gets a Tech punt and has not let us have the ball back. TO’s killed us in this for sure.