Much like our history against many NFC teams, there’s not a great deal to tell. After all, the NFL still largely functions as though it’s two leagues sewn haphazardly together, instead of one overarching entity. The NFC South, in particular, are rarely-played foes for much of the Bills’ history. In all of our time together, we’ve only met the Atlanta Falcons 12 times. The Falcons joined the NFL in 1966, as part of an attempt to combat the AFL’s growing popularity, and were kept around when the AFL-NFL Merger happened. It wasn’t until 1973 that these two franchises would meet for the first time.
|Buf 17-6 Atl||Atl 0-3 Buf|
In their initial meeting, the Atlanta Falcons were having their first successful season ever, but they ran into a wall. Buffalo’s defense limited them to only two Nick Mike-Mayer field goals and the offense ran all over them with dominant days from running backs O.J. Simpson and Jim Braxton. The second meeting was comparable, but much more even-handed as two defenses pitched unbelievable games, with the only score being a Buffalo field goal in the second quarter. The slow start to the series worked in Buffalo’s favor. However, things always change in the NFL, and the early ‘80s weren’t friendly to the Buffalo Bills.
The Hateful ‘80s
|Atl 30-14 Buf||Buf 14-31 Atl||Buf 28-30 Atl|
Buffalo’s dark days had been coming to a gradual end, but they didn’t know that just yet. The Atlanta Falcons secured blowout wins over the Bills in their next two encounters, but an absolute nail biter at the beginning of our Super Bowl window would help inspire us to greatness. It was 1989, and Buffalo was involved in a back-and-forth game that was as electric as it was heartbreaking. Jim Kelly and company played an incredible game, displaying both remarkable efficiency and resilience.
The game was a close one from beginning to end, with neither side leading by more than six points at any time. A short Thurman Thomas run at the close of the third quarter would give Buffalo a 21-20 lead, and things would take a short recess from the action, before one of the most hectic ends to a game in 30 years.
Fifteen minutes later, Paul McFadden’s three-yard burst put the Falcons up by six, but with one minute and 22 seconds left, the game wasn’t over. In just over half that time, they found the end zone. They accomplished this on the back of an 85-yard kickoff return by Don Beebe. They had snagged a one-point lead with 29 seconds left, but tragedy was soon to strike. Atlanta’s kicker, Paul McFadden, would boot one right down the middle from 50 yards out to steal victory back from the Bills.
It was Atlanta’s last win of the season, as they fell from 3-6 to 3-12 over the ensuing months, and Buffalo rebounded well enough to win the AFC East. Their truly jaw-dropping play was but an offseason away. Buffalo would make four straight Super Bowls starting the very next year.
|Atl 14-41 Buf||Atl 17-23 Buf|
Buffalo was in it’s heyday the next two times we met, and an emphatic blowout victory was just another easy, forgettable win for the Bills. The second meeting was a little more tense, but the Bills were still contending for another title appearance, and their defense made the Atlanta offense rather one-dimensional. They stifled a late comeback attempt to secure their second-straight series ‘W’.
|Buf 30-33 Atl||Atl 24-16 Buf||Buf 3-31 Atl|
As we are all well aware, the 2000s and 2010s weren’t exactly great times to be a Buffalo Bills fan (for the most part). Between divisional dominance from our hated rivals, general lack of quality play at every important position on the field, and severe mismanagement from ownership, management, and coaches, Buffalo was in a state of disarray. Though the Atlanta Falcons were far from dominant through that stretch, they did consistently take advantage of our weaker teams.
This trend continued for a long time, and just about every close game these two sides have ever had went the way of Atlanta. Even the last loss we suffered at their hands (in 2013) was close. A banner run game from a young C.J. Spiller, Buffalo was eventually ousted in overtime after the offense that had scored 31 points in regulation finally made a critical error. Only two plays into the overtime period, Scott Chandler took in a huge pass, then promptly fumbled it. The Falcons got the ball in Buffalo territory and quickly ended it.
|Atl 34-31 Buf||Buf 23-17 Atl|
Now, after covering 50 years of history, we reach the 2017 drought-breakers. It was Tre’Davious White’s rookie year, and his commitment to playing to the whistle was imperative in this one. Strong performances from fellow rookie Dion Dawkins and free agent signee Micah Hyde awarded us a tough win against the Falcons team that was just one year removed from their infamous appearance in Super Bowl LI. Needless to say, it was worth celebrating.
To re-live this pivotal game on the road to our re-emergence into the NFL playoffs, check out this video!
Now the Buffalo Bills take on Matt Ryan’s Falcons again. With the AFC East crown in our sights, it’s not one we can afford to lose. Let’s not mince words, we’re in win-now mode and anything less than winning out could cost us the division. Home playoff games are important, and these wins could be the difference between a Wild Card exit or an AFC title appearance. Maybe even more. Let’s get to work.
If you’re enjoying the series check out last week’s issue, detailing our win against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football in 2020.
Next week, we go toe to toe with the New York Jets once again. You can read about our sordid past against them here. Come back next Friday to revisit our demolition of the Jets’ playoff hopes in Week 17 of the 2015-16 season.