Every week, we’ll take a look at one of the week’s matchups and reminisce about a previous meeting between the teams.
Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT) (1998 NFC Championship Game)
Although the Atlanta Falcons have yet to make consecutive playoff appearances during the franchise’s 40-plus years of existence (a streak that could end this season), they have been to the Super Bowl. And their path to Miami that season (which resulted in a loss to the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII) proved to be one of the bigger upsets in recent postseason history.
Dennis Green’s Minnesota Vikings were a formidable opponent, to say the least. Led primarily by QB Randall Cunningham, RB Robert Smith, veteran WR Cris Carter and rookie wideout Randy Moss, this version of the Purple Gang was virtually unstoppable on offense. Green’s team totaled an amazing 556 points, now the second-most in a season in NFL history–scoring at least 24 points in each of their 16 games–and amassing 64 touchdowns (58 by the offense). Smith ran for 1,187 yards and 6 scores and Carter led the team with 78 receptions and caught 12 TD passes. But the eye-opener was Moss as the controversial first-round pick pulled in 69 catches and a rookie-record 17 touchdown receptions. And while the Minnesota attack got most of the publicity, Hall of Fame DT John Randle (10.5 sacks) spearheaded a very respectable and opportunistic defense. Only a midseason loss at Tampa prevented the 15-1 Vikings from a undefeated regular season.
But the visiting Falcons were now slouches. After a 5-2 start, Dan Reeves’ team ran the table, then beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs at the Georgia Dome. Veteran QB Chris Chandler led an attack that relied on workhorse RB Jamal Anderson, the second-leading rusher in the league that season with 1,846 yards, and play-action passing to WRs Tony Martin and Terance Mathis–both who totaled over 1,000 yards receiving and averaged nearly 18 yards per catch. Only 3 teams in the NFL scored more points and only 3 clubs in the league were harder to score on.
When the teams met this January afternoon, the Falcons were supposed to have issues with the Metrodome crowd. But Reeves and company had become acclimated to all kinds of positive and negative noise for the last few months, having played their previous 8 games indoors. But despite taking an early 7-0 lead on their first drive of the game, Atlanta found itself trailing 20-7 late in the second quarter and the Vikings with the football. But with 1:08 before intermission, Cunningham dropped back to pass and was sacked by Falcons’ DE Chuck Smith, who got the hat trick via the strip and fumble recovery. On the next play, Chandler found Mathis from 14 yards out and the potential blowout was suddenly a 20-14 game.
After a 27-yard field goal by Falcons’ PK Morten Andersen narrowed Minnesota’s lead to 3 points in the third quarter, Green’s club seemingly regained control early in the final quarter after a Matthew Hatchette TD reception gave the Vikings a 10-point lead. Reeves’ stubborn bunch cut the deficit to 27-20 on the next possession and the defenses would then exert themselves for the next few moments. With just over 6 minutes to play, Minnesota would embark on a long drive that would reach the Atlanta 21-yard line. Enter veteran PK Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal or PAT since he played for the 49ers in 1997. But his 38-yard attempt sailed wide left and the Falcons suddenly had new life, although they were still 71 yards away and needed a touchdown and PAT to keep their season alive.
It took Chandler and company all of 8 plays to knot the game, the last of those a 16-yard TD strike to Mathis with :49 seconds remaining. The Metrodome crowd was stunned as the game went into overtime. The Vikings got the ball first and both teams actually had 2 possessions in the extra session, but it was Chandler who drove his club 70 yards in 10 plays to set up Andersen’s 38-yard game-winning field goal and sent the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII. And while the “other” Anderson was labeled as the goat for Minnesota’s loss, the fact is that Green’s team allowed a pair of 70-plus yard drives in the fourth quarter and overtime.
A bitter loss for the Vikings and a rousing win for Reeves and the “Dirty Bird.”