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Classic Rewind: Falcons Knock Off Saints in Playoff Clash

Posted on December 21, 2010 by A.J. Foss

One of the NFL’s most bitter rivalries was taken up a notch in the 1991 NFL Playoffs when the Atlanta Falcons visit the Louisiana Superdome to take on their NFC West division rival, the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints won their first division title in 1991 with an 11-5 record for the team’s third playoff appearance and fourth winning season in five years, all under the helm of head coach Jim Mora.

The Saints were lead by their defense, the famed “Dome Patrol”, a linebacking corps that consisted of Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, Vaughn Johnson, and Pat Swilling, which allowed the fewest points and forced the most turnovers in 1991.

The Saints had failed to win a game in their first two playoff appearances, but were favored to beat their division rivals from Atlanta.

The Falcons went 10-6 in 1991 for their first winning season and playoff appearance in a full 16-game season since 1980 (Atlanta made the playoffs in 1982 with a 5-4 in a strike-shortened season).

The Falcons were lead by head coach Jerry Glanville who was in his second season as head coach from the Falcons after coaching the Houston Oilers for four seasons and leading them to three straight playoff appearances.

Glanville’s Falcons reflected his personality; a brash, outspoken team that featured classic trash talkers such as wide receiver Andre Rison and cornerback Deion Sanders.

Many times during the season the team was cheered on the sidelines by M.C. Hammer,  whose song “Too Legit to Quit” was adopted by the Falcons as their anthem for the 1991 season as Atlanta had pulled off several last-second wins, including a 23-20 overtime victory in New Orleans.

Chris Miller tossed three touchdown passes against the Saints.

The Saints had won the first meeting 24-7 in Atlanta so the two teams prepared for the rubber match in New Orleans in the NFC Wild Card Round.

The Saints took the opening kickoff and were forced to punt from their own 22, but Falcons linebacker Tracy Johnson ran into punter Tommy Barnhardt drawing a 15-yard roughing-the-punter penalty and a first down for New Orleans at their own 37-yard-line.

Five plays later, quarterback Bobby Hebert found Floyd Turner wide open in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Saints lead, about six minutes into the game.

After forcing a Falcons punt, the Saints drove to the Atlanta three-yard-line, poised to increase their lead.

But that is where the Falcons defense rose up and made a huge defensive stop when Sanders picked off Hebert in the end zone, giving the Falcons possession at their own 20 with 2:03 left in the first quarter.

Following the interception, the Falcons drove to the Saints’ 40-yard-line where on the first play of the second quarter when Jackson sacked Falcons quarterback Chris Miller, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Jackson at the Saints’ 48-yard-line.

The fumble lead to a 45-yard field goal by Morten Andersen that increased the Saints’ lead to 10-0 with 11:37 remaining in the second quarter.

Down by 10 points, the Falcons drove 80 yards in 11 plays, culminating with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Rison that cut the lead to 10-7.

The touchdown came one play after an apparent fumble that was recovered by the Saints was nullified by the officials.

On the play, Falcons running back Mike Rozier was stopped at the line of scrimmage, and then lost the ball which was recovered by Saints strong safety Brett Maxie at the Saints 24.

But the officials ruled that Rozier’s forward progress had been stopped before he fumbled the ball, and the Falcons were allowed to keep the ball.

Bobby Hebert threw for 276 yards, but was intercepted twice in the playoff loss.

Late in the half, the Saints had another apparent turnover called back when Mills intercepted a swing pass from Miller, only to have a roughing-the-passer penalty called on Pat Swilling, leading to a 44-yard field goal by Norm Johnson that tied the game at 10-10 with 37 seconds remaining in the half.

After the field goal, Saints kick returner Fred McAfee returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the Saints’ 41-yard-line, where Hebert would three straight passes for 41 yards, leading to a 35-yard field goal by Andersen that gave New Orleans a 13-10 halftime lead.

The Falcons got the ball first in the second half and drove down for the go-ahead touchdown, a 20-yard pass from Miller to Michael Haynes in the right corner, to end a nine-play, 84-yard drive, that put Atlanta ahead 17-13 with 9:59 left in the third quarter.

The Saints got the ball back and held possession for the rest of the third quarter on a 19-play, 80-yard drive, that ended 50 seconds into the fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run by Dalton Hilliard that put New Orleans back in the lead at 20-17.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Falcons were able to tie the game with a 36-yard field goal by Johnson and had a chance to take the lead when Johnson lined up to attempt a 54-yard field goal a few minutes later.

However, the kick was blocked by Saints defensive end Les Miller, and the Saints took possession at their own 47 with 5:44 remaining in regulation.

The Falcons defense forced a punt to get the ball back at their own 20 with 4:34 remaining.

Then on 2nd-and-10 from their own 39-yard-line, Miller dropped back and threw a pass to Haynes, who ran a hitch pattern to make the catch at his own 45.

Haynes then made a juke move on cornerback Milton Mack and then proceeded to outrun the entire Saints secondary and into the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown that gave the Falcons the lead at 27-20 with 2:41 to play.

Following Haynes’ electrifying touchdown, the Saints were able to drive to the Falcons’ 35-yard-line until Hebert was intercepted by Falcons cornerback Tim McKyer on a sideline pass intended for Eric Martin.

McKyer then handed the ball off to Sanders, who returned it to the Saints’ 39 before he pitched it back to safety Joe Fishback who then ran the remaining 39 yards for an apparent touchdown.

However, Sanders’ lateral was deemed to be a forward pass, thus negating the touchdown, but the Falcons maintained possession and were able to run out the clock for a 27-20 upset and the second playoff win in franchise history.

The Falcons’ magical ride came to a ride the next week when they were defeated by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins 24-7 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

The Falcons were finished with a 6-10 record the next two seasons, which led to Glanville’s firing and the trade of Sanders after the 1993 season.

The Saints would return to the playoffs the next season but blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter in their NFC Wild Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles and ended up losing 36-20.

The Saints would not return to the playoffs under Mora who resigned in the middle of the 1996 season.

Mora would then go to coach the Indianapolis Colts for four seasons and lead them to two playoff appearances, but once again failed to win a game, to lower his playoff record to 0-6.

Ironically a few hours after his sixth and final playoff loss, the Saints won their first playoff game in team history, a 31-28 victory against the St. Louis Rams.

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