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Dancing to Miami

Falcons stun Vikings in OT, advance to first Super Bowl

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Posted: Monday January 18, 1999 12:37 PM

  Flying south: Morten Andersen's (5) third field goal of the day -- a 38-yarder in overtime -- lifted the Falcons to the NFC crown AP

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- In years to come, Atlantans will fondly recall it as The Drive that sent their beloved Falcons to the Super Bowl for the first time in the team's 33-year history.

Minnesotans will rue it as The Miss that kept their heavily favored Vikings out of the NFL title game.

Morten Andersen kicked a 38-yard field goal with 3:22 left in the first overtime to give Atlanta a stunning 30-27 upset of the Vikings on Sunday. Chris Chandler, hobbling on a bad ankle, took the team on a 70-yard, seven-play drive to set it up.

"We shocked the world! We shocked the world! Atlanta's on fire, we're going to Miami," said Jessie Tuggle, who has spent many losing seasons with the Falcons. "No one thought we would be where we are right now, playing in the NFC championship. But not only did we come here to play in it, we came here to win it."

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The big factor everyone pointed to before this game was crowd noise -- how loud the Metrodome would be and how the Falcons would try to handle the noise. But the lasting impression of Sunday's NFC Championship wasn't the crowd screaming, but rather the stunned silence that followed Terance Mathis' touchdown catch to tie the game in the final minute.

Atlanta prepared all week, blaring crowd noise at jet-engine decibel levels at practice. They also scored on their first possession to help take something away from the crowd. The Falcons were unaffected by the noise -- no false starts, no forced time outs. The Vikings, meanwhile, had three offsides penalties in the first half.

Up 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Vikings had the Falcons on the ropes, with a chance to make this game just another runaway victory. But the Vikings didn't bury the Falcons as they did so many teams this season -- they just couldn't put them away.

The Falcons said that when the game was close and late, they felt they had the advantage. They were accustomed to winning games late -- unlike the Vikings -- and said they knew they were a better second-half team.

On the fourth possession of overtime, the Falcons started on their own 9-yard line, with the crowd bearing down on them. Atlanta drove 70 yards and silenced the crowd again. Morten Andersen's 38-yard game-winning field goal will be ringing in the ears of Vikings fans for quite a time. -- Josie Karp

The Miss also was from 38 yards, by Gary Anderson, who had been perfect all season but was a foot wide with 2:07 left in regulation, leaving the door open for the Falcons.

Chandler took advantage of the opportunity, taking Atlanta on a 71-yard, eight-play drive in the deafening din of the Metrodome. His 29-yard pass to Ronnie Harris set up a 16-yard TD pass to Terance Mathis to tie it at 27 -- and quiet the crowd.

After Andersen's field goal, the Falcons were just about the only ones making any noise.

Atlanta coach Dan Reeves, who had quadruple heart bypass surgery a month ago, fulfilled a pledge to his dancing players by doing their "dirty bird" jig on the sideline.

"If I can handle this with my heart I can handle anything," he said. "It was a great football game. I'm glad I saw it."

The rest of the Falcons were even more jubilant.

"We're going to Miami! We're going to Miami!" the Danish born Andersen, a 17-year veteran, shouted in Danish as his teammates danced.

The win puts Reeves in elite company -- he is only the third coach to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl. He also got there with Denver in 1987, 1988 and 1990, losing all three times.

Suddenly imperfect: Anderson's (1) missed field goal in the fourth quarter could have put Atlanta away AP  

Reeves also was involved in the last conference championship overtime game in 1987, when his Denver Broncos defeated the Cleveland Browns 23-20. Reeves now will face his former team, the defending champion Broncos, in the Super Bowl on Jan. 31. Denver, which beat the New York Jets 23-10 in the AFC title game, was listed as an 8 1/2-point favorite over Atlanta.

The victory was richly deserved by the Falcons, even though it took a fluke -- Anderson's first miss in 45 field-goal attempts -- to have a chance to win.

And it was a huge disappointment for the Vikings, who looked all season like they would roll unimpeded to Miami for the Super Bowl.

But Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss didn't reckon with the Atlanta defense, led by Tuggle, Ray Buchanan, Chuck Smith, Eugene Robinson and what must have looked like a million swarming white shirts to the Vikings.

Yes, Moss had a 31-yard TD pass that evened the scored after Atlanta had taken a 7-0 lead. But he finished with just six catches for 75 yards -- just one catch for 4 yards in the second half and overtime.

Even more critical was the Falcons' poise.

They never let the crowd intimidate them as it had nine other opponents who lost to the Vikings by an average of 23 points. The Falcons offense never jumped early and never had to call time out because of noise.

Minnesota, meanwhile, jumped offside four times, drawn by the uneven cadence of Chandler.

Atlanta, 14-2 in the regular season plus a playoff win over San Francisco, gave notice early that this would be difficult for Minnesota, which was favored by 11 points after a 15-1 regular season.

The Falcons took the opening kickoff and went 76 yards in 15 plays, capped off by a 5-yard TD pass to Jamal Anderson from Chandler, who finished 27-of-43 for 340 yards.

The Vikings then scored 20 straight points, recovering fumbles by Harold Green and O.J. Santiago. Cunningham's pass to Moss tied it.

But the game turned again late in the first half when Smith knocked the ball from Cunningham's hand and Travis Hall recovered at the Minnesota 13. On the next play, Chandler found Mathis in the end zone and it was 20-14.

  A higher power: Mathis caught two touchdown passes, including the game-tying grab with 49 seconds remaining in regulation AP

Andersen's 27-yard field goal with 5:36 left in the third quarter cut the deficit to 20-17.

But Minnesota went 82 yards in 15 plays with Cunningham finding Matthew Hatchette for the score 1:19 into the fourth quarter. They converted three third downs during the drive.

Then a 70-yard pass from Chandler to Terance Mathis set up Andersen's 35-yard field goal that made it 27-20.

After two stops deep in their own territory, the Vikings drove 55 yards to set up what appeared to be the game-clinching field goal.

But amazingly, Anderson missed -- by about 6 inches wide left.

"There's no such thing as a guarantee in football in any way, shape or form." Vikings coach Dennis Green said

Added Anderson: "We had such tremendous expectations. That makes it 10 times more disappointing."

When Anderson missed, it seemed to take the air out of the Metrodome, like a huge pin had been punched in the Teflon roof. It went out even more when Atlanta drove down the field for the tying score.

It came back a bit when the Vikings won the toss to start overtime -- Atlanta called "tails" and it came up heads.

But the Vikings couldn't move on their two possessions and Cunningham, hot early, cooled off and finished 29-of-48 for 266 yards. After the second, Mitch Berger punted 52 yards to the Atlanta 9 and the Vikings seemed in good shape.

But Chandler hit tight end Santiago for 15 yards on the first play and 26 more on the third to put the ball at the Minnesota 48.

From there the Vikings moved deliberately to the 21, Andersen converted and Atlanta went wild.

"We deserve the same amount of respect that they did," said Atlanta cornerback Michael Booker.

"But when we got here, we found they were already selling tickets for the Super Bowl. We came here to spoil a lot of trips. If they're coming to the Super Bowl now, they're going to have to come see the Falcons."

Related information
Anderson's first miss of season proves fatal to Vikings
NFC Championship Photo Gallery
Falcons defense clamps down in second half
Vikings offense pulls disappearing act
Falcons-Vikings Livecast Stats
Falcons-Vikings Scoring Summary
Falcons RB Jamal Anderson is ready to party after sending the Falcons to the Super Bowl (181 K)
Atlanta WR Terance Mathis recalls the game-tying touchdown (414 K)
Mathis talks about the heart of Chris Chandler (201 K)
Vikings WR Randy Moss is disappointed that the offense didn't get the job done (251 K)
Falcons coach Dan Reeves is ready to do some dancing (342 K)
Atlanta TE O.J. Santiago believes nobody gave the Falcons a chance to make it to Miami (194 K)
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