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Falcons hope for something different, a playoff win

By Terence Moore, Special to CNN
updated 9:29 AM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
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Falcons try to change ugly history
Falcons try to change ugly history
Falcons try to change ugly history
Falcons try to change ugly history
Falcons try to change ugly history
Falcons try to change ugly history
Falcons try to change ugly history
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Falcons host the Seahawks in the NFL's divisional playoffs Sunday
  • The team has been plagued with woes since the Falcons formed 47 years ago
  • Player Eugene Robinson propositioned a cop for sex the night before Super Bowl XXXIII
  • Quarterback Michael Vick served time for running a dogfighting ring

Editor's note: Terence Moore has been a sports columnist of more than three decades. He has worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AOL Sports. Follow him on Twitter

Atlanta (CNN) -- Here we go again. Every time the Atlanta Falcons are on the verge of making the rest of the National Football League take them seriously beyond just an occasional tease, along comes -- well, something.

Danny White to Drew Pearson.

An arrest on the night before the Super Bowl.

Dogfighting.

Thousands of cheeseheads dominating the stands to turn the Georgia Dome into Lambeau Field South.

So here we are now, with the Falcons preparing during their 47th season to play hosts on Sunday afternoon to the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League's divisional playoffs. There will be none of that past silliness this time for the Falcons.

At least, that's what those associated with the team keep saying, and why shouldn't we believe them?

History, for one. Lots of brutal history. But there are so many signs that the Falcons are in the midst of a renaissance with their personal Mount Rushmore of owner Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.

They've been together since 2008. They've produced five consecutive winning seasons for a franchise that hadn't managed two in a row before that. They've accumulated one of the NFL's best records (56-24) during that stretch, and they've been particularly dominant in the Georgia Dome. They also entered the postseason with the best record in the National Football Conference at 13-3 to earn home-field advantage along the way to the Super Bowl.

That is, if they keep winning. And they could.

Only the prolific likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and the Mannings (Peyton and Eli) have been as consistently impressive as Ryan during the past five seasons. Plus, Blank has given Dimitroff enough financial freedom to acquire talent as he sees fits, and Smith has won enough in Atlanta to shatter the record for most victories by a Falcons head coach.

Playoff weekend X-factors

The results? Three previous trips to the playoffs for the Falcons' Mount Rushmore, and three losses.

Even so, before usually gabby Falcons wide receiver Roddy White decided to go silent this week with the media for one of the few times during his eight-year career, he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "With the team that we have now, and all the guys that have been around each other, with (Ryan) leading us as a group and knowing that everybody is on the same page, it's going to be a different outcome."

Uh-huh. We'll see.

The Falcons Nation has heard this before.

In 2008, the Falcons were picked to handle a rising but suspect Cardinals bunch on the road in Arizona. The Falcons lost 30-24.

Two seasons later, those 2010 Falcons resembled these current Falcons by building a 13-3 record that led to home-field advantage throughout the NFC side of the playoffs. It didn't matter. With all those cheeseheads screaming like crazy, and with Falcons fans either silent or heading down the local highways by the end of the third quarter, the Green Bay Packers smashed the Falcons 48-21.

Then came last season. The Falcons were just slight underdogs when they headed to New York to face the Giants. Instead, with Ryan and his offensive teammates vanishing for long stretches, the Falcons made the oddsmakers look silly with a 24-2 loss.

When you combine the Falcons' recent and past playoff struggles with a historically shaky fan base that has a tendency to come and go (even during games) and with the appearances of all those "somethings," this has been one of the NFL's most jinxed franchises.

"When you're growing up here, you're not conscious of that. You're not even thinking of that," said Terance Mathis, 45, a former NFL wide receiver who played 13 seasons in the league, including a franchise-record-filled eight for his hometown Falcons through 2001. "After my junior year in high school, I had a chance to watch them practice in training camp, and then go through their locker room. ..."

Still, as has been the case for many around Atlanta, filled with transients and dominated by Southeastern Conference college football fans, the Falcons weren't Mathis' favorite team.

Cowboys, Steelers, Raiders.

"That's where all the big superstars were from, so you gravitated to them, but I did watch the Falcons growing up," said Mathis, who particularly was fond of their teams during the late 1970s and early 1980s, which featured quarterback Steve Bartkowski and running back William Andrews. "If you loved football, you loved players who played well, and they had guys on those teams who played very, very well."

Thinking fan's guide to the playoffs

It's just that, after a wretched start that lasted for more than a decade after the Falcons' debut in 1966, the Bartkowski-Andrews era featured the first of many horrors to come for the franchise.

There were those come-from-ahead (and I mean WAY ahead) playoff losses to the Cowboys in 1978 and 1980, with relatively unknown quarterback White leading the way for Dallas. In both games, White kept finding his receiver, Pearson, in the clutch.

Years after the Bartkowksi-Andrews era, there was Deion Sanders, the only Pro Football Hall of Famer in Falcons history, leaving with his Prime Time act for San Francisco as a free agent.

There was Eugene Robinson, the Falcons' supposedly squeaky clean leader, going from saint to sinner on the day before the Super Bowl in 1999. He was arrested and accused of propositioning a female cop in Miami for oral sex, and the Falcons were flattened by the Denver Broncos in the game.

Remember the Falcons' 2007 season?

They wish to forget. That's when the Falcons spent most of their time discussing Michael Vick's (ahem) hobby with pit bulls instead of his ability to mesmerize opponents with his speed.

That same year, Bobby Petrino didn't even finish his first and only season as the Falcons' head coach. After a controversial 3-10 start, Petrino bolted in the middle of the night with two games left to play to take over the University of Arkansas football team.

Pig sooie, indeed.

Now the Falcons hope to get it right this time.

OK.

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