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Interesting Similarity To 1998 This Weekend


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Couldn't help but think of this game today. 12-2 team heads to Detroit to face a disappointing Lions team, and the game was important for the Falcons. They needed it to wrap up the NFC West and secure a bye in the postseason. Interesting to look back.


NFL Recap (Atlanta-Detroit)

Posted: Sun December 20, 1998 at 10:45 p.m. EST


PONTIAC, Michigan (Ticker) -- The Atlanta Falcons sent the best possible get-well card to coach Dan Reeves -- a division title.

Jamal Anderson rushed for 147 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Falcons clinched only the second NFC West title in their 33-year existence with a 24-17 victory over the Detroit Lions.

Atlanta pulled off the historic win in come-from-behind fashion with 14 fourth-quarter points. Chris Chandler hit Terance Mathis with a 27-yard touchdown 38 seconds into the quarter to tie the game at 17-17. Anderson then scored on a one-yard run with 6:57 left to give the Falcons the lead for good.

It was an especially emotional win for the Falcons since Reeves underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery this past Monday. He was released from the hospital on Friday and expects to return for the playoffs.

After the win sealed the division title and a first-round playoff bye for the Falcons (13-2), Anderson saluted Reeves.

"This right here is the culmination of Dan's hard work," said Anderson, who recorded his 11th 100-yard game of the season. "We won this game for Dan and his family. He came in here and built a winner."

Defensive coordinator Rich Brooks served as interim coach for the Falcons but worked from the coaches' box. General manager Harold Richardson was positioned on the sidelines and relayed instructions from Brooks.

"Dan Reeves is the one responsible for where we are right now," said Brooks, who previously served as coach with St. Louis in 1995 and 1996.

Atlanta won its eighth straight game and set a franchise record for victories in a season.

The Falcons finished 12-4 when they won their first division title back in 1980.

Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jessie Tuggle, Atlanta's leading tackler for the last 10 seasons, had seven tackles and a sack for a defense which forced three turnovers.

"It's unbelievable, it just kept rolling," said Tuggle. "The 49ers dominated this division for so long it was time for a change. We accomplished so much today, but there's still a lot left in this football team."

Anderson leads the NFC with 1,743 yards, eclipsing the franchise record set of 1,719 set by Gerald Riggs in 1985. He also has 15 touchdowns, tying a club record set by receiver Andre Rison in 1993.

"I work hard to be mentioned as one of the best running backs," said Anderson. "For me, its important to be the most prolific rusher in Falcons history."

Meanwhile, Detroit's Barry Sanders rushed for 95 yards on 25 carries and ranks third in the NFC with 1,450 yards. Atlanta has allowed just one 100-yard effort by an opposing running back in the past 23 games.

Frank Reich started for the injured Charlie Batch and completed 15-of-26 passes for 148 yards, two TDs with two interceptions for the Lions (5-10).

"I was pleased with the effort, but turnovers were the biggest undoing to us," said Lions coach Bobby Ross.

Atlanta's Chris Chandler was 11-of-19 for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Anderson with an eight-yard scoring play in the first quarter and connected with Mathis on a 27-yard touchdown in the third period.

"I was wondering what he (Reeves) was thinking throughout the game," said Chandler. "I think that permeated throughout the team. We weren't going to let him down."

The Falcons drove 56 yards in eight plays to the winning score. Anderson keyed the drive with 32 yards on five carries, including an electrifying 26-yard run on 3rd-and-4 to the Detroit 1.

On the next play, Anderson was hit in the backfield by defensive tackle Don Sasa, but broke the tackle and hurdled over cornerback Kevin Abrams into the end zone to snap the 17-17 tie with 6:57 left.

"He had me stopped. I guess he didn't watch enough film," said Anderson. "He hit me, but didn't have me wrapped up."

"Anderson is hard to wrap up," said Ross. "He has a low center of gravity and he's a very stong guy."

The Falcons sealed the win when Pro Bowl safety He Who Shall Not Be Named intercepted a pass by Reich and returned it 11 yards to the Detroit 19 with 1:39 remaining. It was He Who Shall Not Be Named's 53rd career pickoff, moving him within one of Willie Brown for 15th place on the all-time list.

"They used to be a team that was a joke," said Lions receiver Herman Moore. "You used to look forward to having them on the schedule. But they showed how quickly things can turn around."

The Lions put together an 11-play, 94-yard drive on their first drive, capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass from Reich to Tommie Boyd. Sanders rushed for 31 yards on four carries and the Lions benefited from an 18-yard interference call on cornerback Ronnie Bradford.

Chandler hit Anderson with an eight-yard TD with 16 seconds left in the quarter to tie the game. Atlanta's defense set up the score when defensive end Chuck Smith recovered a fumble by Sanders at the Detroit 9.

Morten Andersen kicked the 400th field goal of his career, a 34-yarder with 9:31 left in the second quarter that gave the Falcons a 10-7 advantage.

But the Lions reclaimed the lead when Reich hit Herman Moore with a two-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left in the half. Sanders rushed for 30 yards on five carries to key the drive.

A 30-yard field goal by Jason Hanson with 1:43 left in the third quarter capped a 15-play, 75-yard march and increased Detroit's lead to 17-10.

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