By now, I'm sure all you've read this week follows somewhat along the lines of "the Falcons are 0-2 in the playoffs under Mike Smith, and Matt Ryan has yet to show he can win a playoff game. If they want to prove they are elite blah blah blah blah." Nobody's has to prove anything, because if I'm right both Smitty and Matty will be here for a long time.
For those of you who say "making the playoffs isn't an accomplishment if you don't ever win," I'm sure Lions fans would be more than happy to switch spots with you right now. One playoff appearance in the last 11 years would change my mind pretty quickly as well.
That said, I'd be shocked if the Falcons end up making the playoffs three times in four years and don't manage to win a single playoff game. The nine-win Giants, while a good team in their own right, have been just as inconsistent as the Falcons at times. I mean, they lost to the Redskins. Twice. The great Rex Grossman must've been on his A-game.
Still, Sunday's playoff game in New York is the best shot the Falcons have had to win a playoff game since what feels like forever.
2004 Playoffs: Win over the Rams, loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship
To locate Atlanta's last playoff win, you'd have to jump all the way back to '04, a time when Michael Vick was the hottest quarterback in the game and new head coach Jim Mora Jr. was considered be someone with a bright future (Ha! Oh times, how you change).
After going 11-5 and claiming the NFC South title for themselves, the Falcons easily disposed of an 8-8 Rams team that squeezed into the playoffs. Mora's defense was able to hold both future HoFer Marshall Faulk and his eventual successor Steven Jackson to a total of 62 yards on the ground.
Meanwhile, Vick did his thing at quarterback, breaking 100 yards rushing while completing 12-of-16 passes for... 82 yards. Wow, those stats remind you of a certain Broncos quarterback, don't they?
It would become the Falcons' only postseason victory of the 2000s, as they would fall to the McNabb-led Eagles the very next week. Philly held Vick to only 26 yards on the ground, and star tailback Warrick Dunn wasn't any more effective than his quarterback. The magic ran out.
2008 Playoffs: Loss to the Cardinals in the first round
I have to say: I'll always remember this team as being remarkably fun to watch if only for the reason that nobody had any expectations whatsoever. Several major media outlets claimed the Falcons would be the worst team in the NFL, predicting a 1-15 season and another high-end draft pick. Boy were they wrong.
Head coach Mike Smith led his new team to a surprising 11-5 record and locked up a playoff berth in his first year with the team. Though rookie of the year Matt Ryan certainly impressed, it was Michael Turner, he of almost 1700 yards rushing and multiple 200-yard games, that really carried this team to the postseason.
But a playoff win just wasn't in the cards (see what I did there) for the Falcons. After pulling ahead 17-14 just before halftime, one of the more bizarre plays I've ever seen occurred, in which Turner fumbled and the ball popped up into the air and then down into the hands of Antrel Rolle (now a New York Giant), who ran it back for a touchdown. Things pretty much went downhill from there.
Turner was held to just 42 yards on the ground, and though the Falcons rallied to cut the score to 24-30, Keith Brooking would bite on a play-action fake on third-and-20 and allow Kurt Warner to complete a pass over his head, and the Cards would advance to the Super Bowl.
2010 Playoffs: Loss to the Packers in the divisional round
But not just a loss. The Falcons lost at home, as the No. 1 seed, to a team they had beaten during the regular season. The Falcons had gone 13-3, the second best regular season performance in franchise history, but fate said otherwise as the Packers played perhaps their best game of the season on that night.
Aaron Rodgers was practically flawless, whereas Matt Ryan was intercepted for a touchdown by Tramon Williams in the waning moments of the first half. Turner was again non-existent. The pass rush was useless. The secondary was porous. Basically, a worst case scenario for the Falcons.
Those same Packers are now 15-1 and the No. 1 seeded team on the NFC side of the playoff bracket. If the Falcons get to the Super Bowl, they'll almost have to get through Green Bay first. But before that happens...
2011 Playoffs: New York Giants, Wild Card Round
Like I said, this is Mike Smith's best shot at adding a postseason win to his resume, as it will be for everyone else on the team. The Giants are good but flawed, and much like the Eagles they can be beaten with a sound game plan and of course by minimizing penalties or turnovers.
Eli Manning, for as good as he's been this year, has had a couple games where he's been nothing short of awful. The Giants have lost to the Eagles, Seahawks, and Redskins (twice) among others.
Given how the offense has finally begun to gel these past few weeks, combined with some renewed defensive confidence after last week's dominant performance, the Falcons can and probably should win on Sunday.
We can only hope.
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