With Peyton in town, Monday is a prove-it night for the Falcons

Are you a team looking for a big-name opponent? Well, here's your guy. (AP photo)

Are you an NFL team looking for a big-name opponent? Well, here's your guy. (AP photo)

Counting the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons are 24-11 since Jan. 3, 2010. That’s not bad. But the reason this winning team doesn’t yet occupy space on the NFL’s shelf of the elite is that, duh, it hasn’t won a playoff game since Jim Mora was a rookie coach, and also because it tends to spit the bit in prime time.

Of the Falcons’ six most recent night games, they’ve lost four. One exception was a victory over Jacksonville last December, and we affix an asterisk because it came on Thursday and was aired by the NFL Network, which not everybody gets. Of the five times in 2010/2011 the Falcons played on Saturday (NBC), Sunday (NBC again) or Monday (ESPN) nights, they’ve lost four.

They could have clinched the NFC South two nights after Christmas 2010, but they lost here to the Saints. Nineteen days later they were the marquee game of Saturday’s divisional playoff round, and they lost 48-21 to Green Bay. Last season the Falcons played two home Sunday-nighters in the span of four weeks, and they split: Beating the Eagles narrowly, losing to the Packers less narrowly. And then, come the holidays, they stunk out the Superdome on Monday night, losing to the Saints 45-16.

And here we are again: Another Monday night, another name-brand opponent. “It’ll be a full house,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said this week, and then he smiled. “I’m guessing everyone [holding a ticket] will remember it’s an 8:30 game.”

Well, yes. When Peyton Manning comes to town, you tend to note the date and time. Not-so-fun fact: When last Manning faced the Falcons at night, it was on Thanksgiving in the lost season of 2007. He threw three touchdown passes and the visiting Colts won 31-13. But that was with Bobby Petrino as coach and Joey Harrington as quarterback, and Falcon fortunes have since improved.

The Denver Broncos, Manning’s new team, are 1-0, having beaten the Steelers last Sunday night. The Falcons are 1-0, having routed Kansas City on the road. “It ought to be a good game,” said Smith, telling no lies, and even a coach who sweats the seeming bad games seemed to be feeling some extra oomph for this one.

Again, those two words: Peyton Manning. He might or might not be the greatest quarterback of his generation, but he’s the most frightening for a defensive coordinator. For the five seasons before he moved to Flowery Branch, Mike Smith was a defensive coordinator in Peyton Manning’s division. Twice a year, Smitty and his Jacksonville D had to try and outflank the quarterback who has rarely been outflanked.

Smith on Manning: “He’s the measuring stick for every quarterback of this era, especially with more teams throwing it all the time and going no-huddle. When you’re the defensive coordinator, it truly is a chess match. You get 40 seconds on the play clock, and [going against Manning] you still don’t know what’s coming at the end of it. With most guys, it’s a case of ‘either/or’ or ‘this, this or this.’ But he can go through the whole playbook.”

Smith mentioned measuring sticks: Manning and his new club offer a convenient one for the locals. The Falcons have committed to playing at a fuller tilt on offense and pressuring more on defense, but if your team doesn’t hog the ball and burn the clock your defense has to spend even more time trying to harness a Hall of Famer.

The Falcons could look to run a bit more against Denver than in Week 1 simply because the best way to defuse Manning is to have him stand on the sideline. Or the Falcons could decide to let it fly and we might wind up with a 42-38 game, and wouldn’t that be a boon for the Worldwide Leader? And wouldn’t it say something for the locals if they could win such a spectacle?

The Falcons need to win this game just to prove, both to the watching world and to themselves, that they can. They’re skilled at spearing minnows, but only one of last season’s 10 victories came against a team that qualified for the playoffs. Given repeated opportunities, the Falcons haven’t seized the day. (Or, more precisely, the night.) They’ve gotten tagged as a good team that’s not good enough, and the only way around that is to start beating up on the big boys. There’s none bigger than Peyton Manning.

By Mark Bradley

129 comments Add your comment

ACC is WEAK

September 16th, 2012
11:03 am

Looking forward to having Peyton in the GA Dome!

Matty Ice gonna light the Broncos D on fire!

The Mighty Quinn

September 16th, 2012
11:11 am

I predict the shootout scenario, 45-42.

Ted M

September 16th, 2012
11:18 am

Good Blog.Even with Manning though I’m not so sure the Broncos are one of the big boys.

DS CE'91

September 16th, 2012
11:22 am

Peacock network? Isn’t the game on ESPN?

Senior falcon

September 16th, 2012
11:25 am

I just hope that everyone forgets Keith Brooking and concentrates on the game at hand. Brooking is about as significant to this game as one of Denver’s assistant trainers. Booing him or letting him get under our skin will only work in favor of the Broncos. GATA Peyton and the ones that count. Go Falcons…win the big one!

yo mama

September 16th, 2012
11:31 am

why the peacock mention in second to last paragraph? they play on monday night football. did you think it was a sunday night game, meaning your peacock reference was about NBC?

MFranklin

September 16th, 2012
11:37 am

Well, there it is. Two stellar QBs; ours with more weapons but less defense… our D is banged, bruised and thin as a tater chip in places.

We either outscore them in a fireworks display or… we don’t.

P B Orr

September 16th, 2012
11:37 am

I’m going for the trifecta – 56-20 Falcons.

War Dawg

September 16th, 2012
11:48 am

31-34 Broncos win, Matt throws late int to seal it.

Dr. Warren

September 16th, 2012
11:59 am

Saul Bellow would have been proud of you, Mark.

CamiloAtlanta

September 16th, 2012
12:26 pm

Ain’t no way Broncos win. If you think so, you are clueless. This is one of the easier games on the schedule, no way it’s a prove it or lose it night for Ryan.

Birdhair

September 16th, 2012
12:26 pm

Falcons in big trouble if they have to rely on dunta robinson….

falCANS

September 16th, 2012
12:29 pm

All comes down to Champ vs. Julio. If Champ cant stop Julio 1-o-1 we will win the shoot out. Falcons 42 – 31. O yea can Dent get at least 1 tackle sheesh! #54 fa president GO BIRDS

falcons41

September 16th, 2012
1:13 pm

Was at Mile High Stadium for the Broncos/Steelers game last Sunday. The fans in Denver are the most obnoxious I’ve ever been around. More Broncos fans than usual may travel with the team this Monday due to low fares between ATL and Denver. Here’s my advice to neutralize them and help get a W for the Falcons–MAKE A LOT OF NOISE SO PEYTON’S CONCENTRATION/AUDIBLES WILL BE OFF THE ENTIRE GAME. During the 4th quarter at Mile High, the big screen had “QUIET” during the times Peyton was QB. As compared to the first half, he was much more effective 4th quarter with less noise. SHUT PEYTON DOWN/GO TO THE GA DOME AND MAKE NOISE FALCONS FANS!!!! GO FALCONS!!!!!!!

Nativebird

September 16th, 2012
1:17 pm

I just hope we don’t go into overtime on the back of great 2nd half Falcon defensive play and awesome Matt Ryan come from behind quarterbacking only to be in a 4th and 1 on our own 29, and our brilliant head coach “afraid” of punting the ball to the other teams elite quarterback.
Sound familiar?

The Grinch

September 16th, 2012
1:36 pm

I’ll relax every time I DON’T see Micheal Turner up the middle in the first half.

The Grinch

September 16th, 2012
1:39 pm

The chick on the left in the photo needs a little Grinch in her day.

Rimfire

September 16th, 2012
1:59 pm

Peacock network?

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
2:11 pm

Buffalo blown out by the Jets are up 21-0 over K.C.

I told you losers that beating a 7-9 team with 3 starters out was no accomplishment.

If anything it was defeat because Buffalo already is shutting them out.

Same old losers :)

falcons41

September 16th, 2012
2:15 pm

She’s just mugging for any camera/attention she can get. I saw her trying to get in front of Steelers fans who were waiting for over an hour to see them board the bus to Mile High from the hotel they were at in Denver. Just wanted to be front and center eye candy for the players; how shameless and disgusting……

Eric C.

September 16th, 2012
2:21 pm

Matt, I don’t know…I mean the Chiefs play better at home than on the road. I don’t think that is a fair assessment to say winning a game at Arrowhead is a defeat.

Bill

September 16th, 2012
2:23 pm

Mark good article but is not this game on ESPN and not the Peacock Network (NBC)?

I don’t think the Falcon tackles can block Dumerville and Miller. If Atlanta can’t get Turner going it will be a long night for the home team.

Eric C.

September 16th, 2012
2:23 pm

falcons41, wow, that was a heck of game to attend. I think you make great points because we know Ryan is much more limited in the no-huddle on the road (see Texans game last season). The more noise the better…excellent points.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
2:26 pm

I told you that CHOKE gets you people excited over meaningless regular season games.

Buffalo was killed by the Jets and they are killing the team that the Falcants thought was a big win….ha ha :)

Beastly Dawg

September 16th, 2012
2:29 pm

It would make my day if “CHOKE” was officially banned from AJC. I would be so happy if that happened. He’s jealous. That’s all that is. It would make me cumm if he got banned. Make it happen Bradley.

Eric C.

September 16th, 2012
2:29 pm

Matt, I disagree that regular season games are meaningless…how else can you get to the playoffs? Moreover, that win last year over Philadelphia was one of the most exciting regular season victories in a while.

Beastly Dawg

September 16th, 2012
2:32 pm

Hey “CHOKE”, what’s gonna be your excuse when we beat Denver tomorrow night? Will you say that Manning isn’t any good coming off a year away from football? Or that Denver barely won a playoff game last year? What will it be? I’m sure it’ll be something.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
2:32 pm

Looks like Tampa will be in 1st place after doing what CHOKE couldn’t do…..Beat the Giants…..ha ha :)

Beastly Dawg

September 16th, 2012
2:33 pm

“Choke”, what’s going to be your excuse when we beat Denver tomorrow? That Peyton Manning isn’t the same Peyton Manning? That Denver isn’t any good?

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
2:34 pm

Buffalo 21

KC 0

Enough said….ha ha :)

LOL at the Aints

September 16th, 2012
2:34 pm

How bout those Aints,, Lookin Good!! LOL!!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
2:35 pm

Tampa 24
Giants 13

Falcants 2
Giants 24

Enough said…..ha ha :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
2:36 pm

Tampaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa :)

CHOKE the JOKE

September 16th, 2012
2:39 pm

Hey Joke Choke, how is your boy Vick doing?

CHOKE the JOKE

September 16th, 2012
2:43 pm

Oh you quiet now? Come on you coward. Face me! Fight me!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
2:45 pm

0-3…..ha ha :)

CHOKE the JOKE

September 16th, 2012
2:47 pm

What a punk. Dude is unbelievable. Such a loser. Must be a kid.

Matty Bicep

September 16th, 2012
2:48 pm

So MV7 has a fumble and a pick in the red zone in the 1st half. Waaaahahahaha.

HAL

September 16th, 2012
2:49 pm

I don’t think winning the game will be enough- we’ve got to find a way for a decisive, dominating win. Leave everything on the field and leave no room for doubt. If its close and we win, the pundits will spin it as the broncos beat themselves or the broncos would have one if not for this play or that error or some other lame excuse as to why the broncos didn’t win. Regardless, if its not a decisive dominating win, the falcons still won’t gain much respect…at least from the press.

They call me Mr Tibbs

September 16th, 2012
2:52 pm

Buffalo blown out by the Jets are up 21-0 over K.C.

Yea, the poor KC coach does not belong in the NFL. The guy is overmatched.

They call me Mr Tibbs

September 16th, 2012
2:54 pm

And oh yea, at least the Giants ARE SB champs, it is not like we made Cleveland LOOK like SP champs.

CHOKE the JOKE

September 16th, 2012
3:00 pm

Saints SUCK!

Whopper Dawg

September 16th, 2012
3:02 pm

Great column, Mark, you nailed the Falcon’s status. If they have designs on being more than just a good team and designs on doing more than backing into the playoffs and being sent packing home after one game, than folks like Manning are the people you have to beat.

IMO, they are not more than a good team right now and it will take more than the continued progression of Ryan to become more than that. The lack of fruits of TD’s drafting and FA labors on both lines and the Dbackfield is a trifecta that is hard for a team to over come. no matter how good their WRs are.

Sid

September 16th, 2012
3:06 pm

Falcon’s miserable Monday Night history and the great Peyton….not a good combination…hope I’m wrong.

They call me Mr Tibbs

September 16th, 2012
3:15 pm

Very true Mark, because history says that teams who win in week 2 have a destiny with the SB.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
3:22 pm

Flaccoooooooooooo :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
3:23 pm

Vick…………….. :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

September 16th, 2012
3:24 pm

Buffalo 35

KC 3

I guess the Bills are destined for the superbowl too…..ha ha :)

CHOKE can’t even out gun Fitzpatrick with all his weapons…ha ha :)

dean

September 16th, 2012
3:29 pm

That’s right, Mark. Until the Falcons hang some prestigous hides they will always be known as the cute kid.

We’ll get a decent indicator tomorrow night of what kind of team ATL has.

(Watching saints-panthers I understand something: Curtis Lofton probably wasn’t the huge loss some of us thought. He’s been pushed around all afternoon. So far.

dean

September 16th, 2012
3:32 pm

releeeeease me