- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

ATLANTA — There’s more to the Atlanta Falcons than Michael Vick.

Sure, the Falcons’ one-of-a-kind quarterback put on quite a show in the NFC playoffs, throwing two touchdown passes and running for 119 yards. But his teammates managed to escape Vick’s considerable shadow, putting Atlanta within one win of the Super Bowl.

Warrick Dunn ran for a 62-yard touchdown, Allen Rossum set an NFL playoff record for punt returns and Atlanta routed the St. Louis Rams 47-17 last night.

The Falcons advanced to the NFC Championship game for only the second time in the franchise’s 39-year history. They either will play host to Minnesota or travel to Philadelphia next weekend for a spot in the Super Bowl.

The only other time Atlanta made it this far was the 1998 season. The “Dirty Birds” got all the way to the Super Bowl, only to get blown out by Denver in John Elway’s final game.

Now, a team known mostly for its inept play is on the verge of making it to Jacksonville, Fla., with a rookie coach. And speaking of Jim Mora, he finally gave his family a playoff victory.

His dad, Jim Mora, took New Orleans and Indianapolis to the playoffs six times, only to go one-and-out each time. He’s the only 100-win coach in NFL history without a postseason victory on his resume. (He did win two USFL titles with the Stars in the mid-‘80s.)

St. Louis won its last two regular-season games just to make the playoffs with an 8-8 mark, then knocked off NFC West champion Seattle last weekend. But the Rams ran out of gas against the Falcons, who were off last week and had not played a meaningful game in almost a month.

It didn’t take long for those fresh legs to pay off, especially when matched against the Rams’ woeful defense and special teams.

On Atlanta’s third offensive play, Vick got loose for a 47-yard run, which set up an 18-yard touchdown pass to Alge Crumpler with the game only three minutes old.

The tone was set for a first half: It resembled a track meet more than a football game. The Falcons led 28-17, with the teams combining for the second-highest scoring half for a divisional-round game in league history.

Rossum did more running than anyone. The 5-foot-8 return specialist returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute to go in the first half.

He wasn’t done, setting an NFL playoff record with 152 yards on three punt returns — a staggering 50.7-yard average.

Rossum had returns of 39 and 45 yards in the third quarter, setting up Vick’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price and Jay Feely’s 38-yard field goal to give the Falcons a comfortable 38-17 lead.

Rossum broke the mark set by Minnesota’s Anthony Carter, who had 143 yards in punt returns against the Saints during the 1987 season. In a fitting bit of symmetry, that was the first playoff loss for Mora’s father.

Dunn rushed for 142 yards on just 17 carries, including the 62-yard touchdown that quickly eclipsed Vick’s 47-yard scamper for the longest run in Falcons’ playoff history. By the time he was done, Dunn had eclipsed Jamal Anderson’s franchise record of 113 yards in a playoff game.

The Falcons looked every bit like the league’s top running team, finishing with 327 of their 397 yards on the ground. Vick passed for only 82 yards but was an efficient 12-for-16.

Vick’s only blemish was a fumble at the end of a run, and the Rams’ defense had nothing to do with that. He simply lost the ball after stumbling to the turf without being touched.

Rossum’s touchdown was a thing of beauty, crafted by special teams coach Joe DeCamillas. The Falcons lined up three players for the punt, with Rossum faking a lateral pass to DeAngelo Hall before taking off up the middle without being touched to give Atlanta a 28-14 lead.

DeCamillas is the son-in-law of former Falcons coach Dan Reeves, who took Atlanta to its lone Super Bowl.

The Falcons exposed one of St. Louis’ biggest weaknesses, an atrocious special teams unit. The Rams ranked at or near the bottom in every return category — 30th in defending the punt.

Jeff Wilkins did give the Rams a glimmer of hope with a 55-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, but that was St. Louis’ last hurrah.

The Atlanta defense made life miserable for Rams quarterback Marc Bulger in the second half.

Brady Smith crushed Bulger in the end zone for a safety, Jason Webster had an interception and Keith Brooking forced Bulger into a fumble that was recovered by Travis Hall.

Brooking and Hall are the only holdovers from Atlanta’s last Super Bowl team.

The Rams got some bad news before the game, learning Isaac Bruce couldn’t play because of a lingering groin injury.

Even though fill-in Kevin Curtis managed seven catches for 128 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, it was pretty much downhill from there for St. Louis.

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