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NFL Classic Rewind: Unlikely Heroes Help Falcons to Wild Shootout Win over Packers

Posted on October 07, 2011 by A.J. Foss

When the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons met in week 13 of the 1983 NFL season, it seemed almost a guarantee that the game would be a high-scoring affair that would be decided in the final seconds.

The Packers entered the game with a 6-6 record, thanks to their offense which had averaged 27 points per game up to this point.

The offense was led by quarterback Lynn Dickey, who would finish the season with 4,458 passing yards, and a receiving corps that featured John Jefferson and all-Pro James Lofton.

Despite their high-octane offense, the Packers had one of the worst defenses, which had given up 332 points through the 12 games and had a hard time maintaining leads the offense had given them.

When Green Bay traveled to Atlanta, they must have felt they were looking into a mirror as the Falcons also had a high-scoring offense and suspect defense.

The Falcons had a 5-7 record under first-year head coach Dan Henning with an offense that featured quarterback Steve Bartkowski, running back William Andrews, and wide receiver Billy “White Shoes” Johnson who would go to be named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year for 1983.

At this point of the season, the Falcons had played in eight games that were decided by seven points or less, including the week before the Packers game where Johnson caught a 47-yard “Hail Mary” touchdown pass from Bartkowski as time expired to give Atlanta a 28-24 victory.

The Packers were also accustomed to close ballgames as they had six games decided by four points or less, with three of them going into overtime.

However, the Falcons were dealt a blow entering their showdown with the Packers as Bartkowski as unable to play because of strained ligaments in his right knee.

This meant that Mike Moroski, the Falcons’ backup since 1979 would make the first start of his NFL career.

The Packers dominated most of the first half as they scored touchdowns of each their first three possessions to jump out to a 21-0 lead, with Lofton having a huge impact on each drive.

First, Lofton caught a 14-yard touchdown from Dickey on the Packers’ opening possession, then drew a 50-yard pass interference penalty on Falcons safety Tom Pridemore that put Green Bay at the Falcons one-yard-line where Dickey snuck it in for a touchdown on the very next play, and finally made a 42-yard catch to set up a 7-yard toss from Dickey to tight end Paul Coffman.

After the Packers’ 21-point scoring onslaught, the Falcons’ offense got going with a 72-yard drive which ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Moroski to Andrews that cut the Green Bay lead to 21-7 with 4:35 left in the first half.

Then on the second play of the ensuing Packers’ offensive possession, the Falcons forced a turnover when Earl Jones picked off a Dickey pass and returned it 19 yards to the Packers’ 22-yard-line.

Two plays later, Andrews took it in for the score from 20 yards out and all of a sudden the Packers’ lead was only seven points at 21-14.

Green Bay got back on track on its next drive, thanks to Lofton again, as he ran for 13 yards on a reserve and made a 20-yard catch, to get the Packers to the Falcons’ six-yard-line where kicker Jan Stenerud made a 23-yard field goal to increase the lead to 24-14 with 1:01 before the end of the half.

James Lofton caught seven passes for 161 yards and scored one touchdown for the Packers in thier high-scoring affair with the Falcons.

Moroski try to get the Falcons into field goal range but had only gotten them to the 50-yard-line with six seconds to go.

Not in field goal range and no timeouts remaining, the Falcons hoped for lighting to strike two weeks in a row and get a touchdown on a “Hail Mary”.

Moroski took the snap, rolled to his left and fired a pass toward the goal line intended for Stacey Bailey, who jumped in front of Packers safety Mike Jolly to make the catch at the two-yard-line, and then walked in for a stunning 50-yard touchdown as time expired.

And after Mick Luckhurst kicked the extra point, the Falcons were only down by three points, 24-21 with the offense getting the ball to start the second half.

The Falcons drove to inside the Packers’ 20-yard-line until cornerback Tim Lewis intercepted a Moroski pass in the end zone to give Green Bay possession at their own 20-yard-line.

It only took the Packers four plays to get back into the end zone as Dickey and Coffman connected for their second touchdown of the game, this one for 20 yards, to make Green Bay’s lead 31-21.

Both teams then traded field goals as Luckhurst drilled a kick from 44 yards out to cut the Packers’ lead to 31-24, only to have Stenerud put the lead back up to ten points with a 33-yard field goal for a 34-24 lead as the game entered the fourth quarter.

That is where Johnson, who had been quiet through the first three quarters, made two big plays to help the Falcons tie the game.

First, Johnson made a 44-yard reception that led to a one-yard touchdown run by Andrews to cut the lead to 34-31, and then returned the Packers’ first and only punt of the game 38 yards to the Green Bay 42-yard-line to set up a 22-yard field goal by Luckhurst which tied the game at 34 with just over two minutes left in regulation.

Following Johnson’s heroics, the Packers took over at their own 20-yard-line with a chance to drive down the field and win the game in the final seconds.

But disaster struck on the very first play from scrimmage when Falcons cornerback Kenny Johnson stepped in front of wide receiver Phillip Epps for the interception and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown that gave the Falcons their first lead of the game at 41-34 with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter.

Despite having allowed 17 straight points, the Packers had a chance to force overtime as their explosive offense would get the ball back following the interception.

Dickey led the Packers on a 10-play, 85-yard drive, culminating with a 4-yard touchdown run from Gerry Ellis with just three seconds left in regulation.

Stenerud made the extra point to tie the game at 41 and force overtime, the fourth overtime game for the Packers in the 1983 season.

Backup quarterback Mike Moroski filled in nicely as he threw for over 300 yards and two touchdown passes in the Falcons' overtime victory.

With the way the game had been played, it seemed who ever won the coin toss would win the game as they would take the ball first.

The coin toss went in Green Bay’s favor and of course they took the ball.

The Packers took possession from their own 15-yard-line and gained nine yards on a shovel pass from Dickey to Ellis to set up a 3rd-and-1 only to have an ineligible receiver penalty called on left guard Dave Drechsler negate the play and make it 2nd-and-17 from the 8-yard-line.

An offside penalty got the Packers five yards back for a 2nd-and-12 from the 13, when Dickey dropped back and fired a pass intended for Gary Lewis.

But Falcons linebacker Buddy Curry tipped the pass and was picked off by Kenny Johnson again, who returned it 31 yards for the game-winning touchdown 2:13 into the overtime period to give Atlanta a 47-41 victory.

The win kept the Falcons’ playoff hopes, but they would drop the next two games and ended up finishing the season with a 7-9 record.

Meanwhile, the Packers would win their next two games to enter the last week of the regular season with a chance to win the NFC Central, only to lose on a last-second field goal to the Chicago Bears 23-21 to finish at 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

As for Moroski, he would start eight more games in his career, six with the Falcons and two with the 49ers, before he retired from the NFL following the 1986 season.


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