Falcons vs. Bears
When: 8:20 p.m. Sunday
Where: Georgia Dome
TV, radio: NBC; 550-AM, 92.9 FM
Web site: www.atlantafalcons.com
FLOWERY BRANCH — White beating Chicago in the final second last year helped define the Atlanta’s season, quarterback Matt Ryan has little interest in reminiscing.
“It was a big win, but that’s done,” Ryan said this week. “That was last year. This is a different team coming in here this year, and we’re a different team at this point this year.”
True. Jay Cutler, not Kyle Orton, plays quarterback for the Bears, who lost linebacker Brian Urlacher for the year in Week 1.
Atlanta added 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez in a trade. Running back Michael Turner, the NFL’s second-leading rusher last year, is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and tied for 17th among players with at least 40 rushing attempts.
Ryan might be right about Sunday night’s game between Atlanta (3-1) and the Bears (3-1), but last year’s 22-20 win proved to be a turning point for a Falcons team searching for identity.
Coming off a three-point upset victory at Green Bay the week before, the Falcons beat Chicago in dramatic fashion and kept alive a streak that’s reached 21 games without consecutive losses under coach Mike Smith.
Kicker Jason Elam, who kicked the 48-yard winning field goal with no time remaining, saw a shift in the confidence of a team that finished 11-5 and earned an NFC wild-card playoff spot.
“There’s no question that we gained a lot of momentum from that win,” Elam said. “Sometimes you need to experience something dramatic like that, as long as it’s positive, for there to be a kind of collective rise in the locker room that you can accomplish some great things as a team.”
Elam, now in his second season with Atlanta after spending his first 15 in Denver, was 5-for-5 on field goals that day. The final kick was the 16th game-winner of his career in the final 2 minutes of regulation or in overtime, but it followed a critical miss from 33 yards that would’ve given the Falcons a nine-point lead with less than 3 minutes remaining.
“(The Bears) went down there and scored on us, and it looked like we were just going to give it away,” Elam said. “We were able to, fortunately, get back in that one, and I know that they probably went home just really deflated and feeling like they gave that one away.”
Elam has made more significant field goals — he was 2 of 4 in Denver’s Super Bowl win in 1999 — but he never would’ve had a chance to beat the Bears last year if not for Ryan and Michael Jenkins.
Connecting with Ryan on an “out route” pattern that resulted in a 26-yard completion, Jenkins kept both feet in bounds along the Atlanta sideline to stop the clock with 1 second remaining.
Ryan, locked into his game plan for this week, hasn’t forgotten the throw and catch.
“Last year?” he said. “Yeah, you have to believe that in those situations that you’re going to make the play. I felt like it was a good call, and we got it done.”