In the first three parts of our continuing series on the Atlanta Falcons all-time greats, we’ve covered the all-decade Atlanta teams from the 1960′s to the 1990′s.
Now we get into one of the strangest periods in Falcons’ history. The period from 2000 to 2011 can kind of be broken up into a couple of different times. The first half of that period being one of the worst the franchise had ever seen, and then the second half of it being the most successful.
From 2000-2007, the pains of Falcon fans can be summed up in a brief list of names: Michael Vick, Jim L. Mora, and Bobby Pet…(I can’t bring myself to finish typing that name). It was a period wrought with unwanted attention from bad decisions by players, constant turnover of coaches, and just plain bad play on the field many times.
Then in 2008, when the franchise seemed at it’s lowest point ever, a new front office, a new coach, a new quarterback, and a new tradition of winning took over the franchise. The team now has a track record of success, and Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and company are poised to take the team even further. So let’s take a look at some of the key players from both ends of this diametrically opposed decade.
As with all our lists in this series, I consider more than just compiled statistics to decide who makes the cut. I looked at what they contributed to the team, and to the community in Atlanta. How crucial they might have been to team chemistry. How sad (or glad) fans were to see them leave town for another team. All these factors and more were taken into account. We’ll name starers and reserve players for all the skill positions, and then two defensive players, two offensive lineman, a tight end, a kick/punt returner, a kicker, a punter, and a head coach.
So let’s get going with our last all-decade team:
The 2000′s +
QB: Starting – Matt Ryan (2008-present), Reserve – Matt Schaub (2004-2006) Ryan has to be the man as the starter for this decade. He’s orchestrated some huge wins, and has been the most consistent quarterback the franchise has seen in decades. Schaub, although only a backup during his brief time in Atlanta, was well liked and always gave you a comfort level if he had to come in in place of the starter. Not to put a knock on Matt Ryan, but just imagine Schaub throwing to Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez the last four years. It boggles the mind.
(Writers Note: I’m sure many of you are asking “Where’s Michael Vick on this list?” Honestly there are two distinct sides to feelings about Vick in Atlanta. Those who still revere him, and those who feel he did more harm than good to the team. With all due respect, I’m in the latter group, so I could not in good conscience, put him on this list.)
RB: Starting – Warrick Dunn (2002-2007), Reserve – Michael Turner (2008-present): Has there ever been a more likeable ambassador for the NFL and professional athletes as a whole than Warrick Dunn? Oh yeah, let’s not forget the nearly 6000 yards and 30 touchdowns he handed Atlanta. Turner has been the backbone of the Atlanta running attack since coming over from the San Diego Chargers, and has provided huge numbers for the Falcons in his four seasons.
WR: Starting – Roddy White (2005-present), Reserve – Brian Finneran (2000-2010): “..and with the 27th pick in the 2005 NFL draft, the Atlanta Falcons select, out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham…Roddy White” (Fans response): Roddy Who?? Out of Where?? Well, now we know. As for the reserve I had a really difficult time deciding between Finneran and Michael Jenkins. Although Jenkins was a little better in the statistical category, in the end I went with Finneran just out of the sheer heart he showed coming back after multiple devastating injuries.
TE: Tony Gonzalez (2009-present): Do I really have to write anything as to an explanation for this pick? Moving on….
OL: Todd McClure (1999-present), Ovie Mughelli (2007-2011): McClure is next in a long line of great Atlanta centers. A dependable, durable, and excellent blocking lineman who has been the rock on the Falcons offensive line for over a decade. Mughelli isn’t a traditional offensive lineman, but as a fullback, let’s face it, he pancaked and flattened more guys, and opened up more holes than just about anybody. And when Mughelli, was out, it was apparent how much he was missed.
DEF: John Abraham (2006-present), Keith Brooking (1998-2008): Since 2006, Abraham (the Predator) has been roaming on defense and terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. His leadership and his presence on the field can not be undersold. Booking was (and still is) Mr. Intensity. Every week, Brooking – a local talent out of Ga. Tech – was fired up and ready to play, no matter how poorly the team was performing.
KR/PR: Allen Rossum (2002-2006): Outside of Deion Sanders, Rossum was probably one of the best kick returners the Falcons ever had. Always a danger to take one the distance, Rossum ended up with over 7200 all-purpose yards in his five seasons with the Falcons.
K: Kicker By Committee (2000-present): As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to pick a single kicker from this decade. There simply hasn’t been one around for more than a few years, and none of them have stood out with any real greatness. So the group of Morten Andersen, Jay Feely, Todd Peterson, Matt Prater, Jason Elam and Matt Bryant get to be our kicker-by-committee for this list.
P: Michael Koenen (2005-2010): Koenen was known as a top-notch punter, who set a record for number of return yards allowed, and also was used for long kick-offs.
Coach: Mike Smith (2008-present): This one wasn’t even close. Smith is already the most successful coach in franchise history, and hopefully that trend will continue on for many years to come.
So there you have it. The Atlanta Falcons 2000 to present all-decade team. Our grand finale, the all-time Atlanta Falcons team, will be coming soon!
Is there someone you think was left off, or shouldn’t be on this list? Feel free to comment below!