Gabriel completed 21 of 33 for 221 yards against that defense. Lee was nowhere near as spectacular; he had 12 of 23 for 109 yards and one touchdown, but he handled the Falcon offense almost flawlessly, and the passes he completed kept drives alive.
"Playing for a coach who was a great quarterback has advantages," he said. "He's been there so he knows your problems. But it has disadvantages, too. He was a tremendous quarterback who demanded perfection from himself and he demands it from his quarterbacks, too. There is no admiration for second place in our society."
Then he said something about Van Brocklin that may never have been said before. The Dutchman, for good reason, had complimented Lee, and a reporter passed on the approbation to the quarterback. " Mr. Van Brocklin has been very gracious to me," Lee said. "He is a gracious man."
He was not always that gracious to Lee. The Falcons, a solid team in every respect except quarterback and field-goal-kicking, went to camp with Lee, Sullivan and Shiner, and Van Brocklin said the quarterback and kicking jobs were wide open. Lee injured the ulnar nerve in his passing arm in a scrimmage—he hit Defensive Tackle Mike Tilleman on the helmet with his elbow—and he was unable to throw well. Out of action for two weeks, he performed poorly after that. Van Brocklin shrugged off the injury. "You gotta play hurt sometimes," he muttered.
When Lee came back, he was unimpressive in a couple of exhibitions, throwing with what was, in effect, a dead arm. Sullivan, short for a pro quarterback and handicapped by a baseball-like throwing stride that reduces his 6-foot frame to about 5'3" when he lets fly, looked no better than Lee. So Van Brocklin turned to Shiner, who was slow setting up and couldn't scramble.
Then came the 49er game, in which Lee brought to life a moribund club. Asked the difference between the ineffectual Lee of the exhibition season and the Lee who vitalized the team against San Francisco, he said, "It's nice to have a good arm again."
Lee started the next week against Chicago and completed 11 of 13 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, as the Falcons won 46-6. He led the club to a 41-0 victory over San Diego; then, in a key game he demonstrated his winning capability by completing 11 of 13 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and a 17-3 victory over San Francisco that put the Falcons in the race for the Western Division championship of the NFC.
Lee underlined that challenge when the Falcons defeated Los Angeles two weeks ago 15-13 on five Nick Mike-Mayer field goals. Lee did not throw for a touchdown in that game, but his passes accounted for 222 yards and positioned the Italian-born Hungarian placekicker for his winning field goals.
By triumphing over Los Angeles, the Falcons posed a genuine threat for the division title. They have only one really tough game remaining on their schedule—Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings in Atlanta. Then they go down the homestretch against the Jets in New York, and Buffalo, St. Louis and New Orleans at home.
All the Falcons now believe they can win from here in. Philadelphia was an important test—they came in flat, fell behind 7-0, then were tied 20-20 before taking the lead for good on Eddie Ray's two-yard run.