Falcons vs. New York Jets
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
TV, radio: FOX; 550-AM, 92.9 FM
Web site: www.atlantafalcons.com
FLOWERY BRANCH — Ovie Mughelli had heard about the streak, he was just a little shaky on the details.
"I remember someone saying at the end of last season, ‘We need to go back to the playoffs, so we can make sure we break that streak,’" said Mughelli, who’s in his third year as the Atlanta Falcons starting fullback.
He had no idea how bad it really was. When told the Falcons had never, ever managed back-to-back winning records in their 44-year history, Mughelli’s head shot around in disbelief.
"Oh ... my ... God," he said. "I thought it was just in the last 10 years or so. That’s ridiculous."
The Streak drapes this franchise like a ball and chain. And here they are again: the injury plagued Falcons (6-7) have lost six of their last eight games, leaving them one defeat away from extending one of sport’s most dubious runs.
According to STATS Inc., only six franchises in the four major sports have failed to post consecutive winning seasons, including a fellow Atlanta team, the NHL Thrashers, and two other NFL teams, the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans. (The others are the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.)
The Panthers are the oldest of the rest, entering the league in 1995. The Falcons have been around since 1966.
"I think about it all the time," Falcons receiver Roddy White said. "I’m so ready to break this streak."
The streak’s greatest strength, of course, is Atlanta’s overall lack of success. The Falcons managed only 11 winning records in their first 43 seasons, which makes it a lot easier to ensure they don’t come two at a time.
Most times, they haven’t even come close to ending their consistent run of inconsistency.
After going 9-5 in 1973, the Falcons plummeted to 3-11 the following year. In 1995, they made the playoffs with a 9-7 mark, only to sink to 3-13 the next year when coach June Jones had a falling out with quarterback Jeff George.
In 2002, Michael Vick led the Falcons to a 9-6-1 mark and a landmark playoff win at Green Bay. But The Streak quickly reared its ugly head; Vick went down with a broken leg the next preseason, Dan Reeves was fired and Atlanta limped to the finish at 5-11.
Even in 1998, when the Falcons put together the greatest season in franchise history (14-2) and made it to their lone Super Bowl, they didn’t come close to breaking The streak. Star running back Jamal Anderson tore up a knee early the next season and the Dirty Birds crashed back to reality at 5-11, one of the worst falls ever for a Super Bowl team.
There have been only three real challenges to The streak.
— In 1971, the Falcons went 7-6-1 — the first winning mark in franchise history. The following year, they were 7-6 going into the season finale at home against Kansas City, which had the very same record. Bob Berry’s touchdown pass to Ken Burrow put the Falcons ahead in the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs rallied to win 17-14 when Len Dawson hooked up with Ed Podolak for the winning TD throw.
— After going 12-4 in 1980, winning their first division title, the Falcons came out flying the following year with a 3-0 mark. Even with a roster that featured seven Pro Bowlers, Atlanta then suffered a series of agonizing defeats — seven by a total of 19 points — to stumble in at 7-9. Most galling, the team had a 7-6 mark with three games to play and lost them all: 24-23 to Tampa Bay, 21-16 to the Los Angeles Rams and 30-28 to Cincinnati.
— Atlanta romped to a division title (11-5) in 2004 and came within one victory of making it back to the Super Bowl. The streak appeared dead when the Falcons started the next year 6-2. Even after losing three of four, they were 8-5 with three games left. All they needed was one more win. But an ugly 16-3 loss at frigid Chicago was followed by a 27-24 overtime setback at Tampa Bay, knocking the Falcons out of the playoffs. They packed it in for the season finale, losing 44-11 at home to Carolina.
The streak lived on.
Atlanta started 4-1 this season, but injuries to quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner cost the team dearly. The playoffs are only a faint hope now, but the Falcons haven’t given up on a second straight winning season.
The biggest test comes Sunday at the Meadowlands, where the Falcons will face the playoff-contending New York Jets (7-6).
If Atlanta can pull off an upset in that one, there may be hope. The last two games are at home against Buffalo (5-8) and the finale at woeful Tampa Bay (1-12).
"There’s no room for error," White said. "It would feel real good to do it with the situation we’ve been in this year. I’m not making excuses, but we’ve had a lot of guys hurt. Last year, no one was hurt.
"If we can get that monkey off our backs, it would be great."