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Match-Up Against Falcons Features A Pair Of Widely Regarded Receivers

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
22 years ago at 6:00 am ET
Posted Under: Uncategorized

ATLANTA — Think you don’t know much about the Atlanta Falcons?

From their humble beginnings in 1966, when Rankin Smith was awarded an expansion franchise, the Atlanta Falcons have enjoyed only a smattering of success in their NFL history. Their moments in the spotlight have been few and far between. Who could be considered the franchise’s greatest all-time player was a linebacker who dates back almost to the beginning.



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Along the way, you’ve had a Tommy Nobis here and a Steve Bartkowski there. You loved watching the flash-in-the-pan William Andrews, and you laughed at a bartender-turned-kicker named Tim Mazzetti. You saw the effect Jerry Glanville had on their team when he changed their uniforms from red-dominant to black-dominant.

The crowning achievement of the Falcons came in the 1998 season. They set an NFL record for the most wins by a visiting playoff team. They won the NFC West with a 14-2 record, but had to travel to Minnesota to play the 15-1 Vikings for the right to go to Super Bowl XXXIII. The Falcons came out of the Metrodome with an overtime win and a date with the Denver Broncos in the Big Show that year, but the Broncos took all the air out of Atlanta’s balloon and won their second straight Vince.

Included in one of those 14 1988 wins was a 41-10 pasting of the Patriots in Foxborough. The Patriots knew all about Chris Chandler and Jamal Anderson, but this game introduced them to such gents as O.J. Santiago and Bob Christian. Patriot fans who had this game circled as an “easy win” game in the preseason looked pretty foolish at game’s end.

This was the last meeting between these two teams, until this Sunday. You perhaps know less about the Falcons now than you did then. Since their great Super Bowl season, injuries have ravaged this team, particularly to Chandler and Anderson. The team traded up to draft Michael Vick, who is not yet ready to start in the NFL just yet. The team is dead last in pass defense, despite a great cornerback tandem in Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose.

How can the average Patriot fan be much of an expert on the Atlanta Falcons?

Okay, quick. Name one of the Falcon wideouts.

Terance Mathis? Good. Maybe you remember the last team that San Diego punt returner Tim Dwight played for.

Now, name the other one.

Over the years, the Patriots have had to make some tough cap decisions. They could never have matched that damned offer sheet for Curtis Martin. Yeah, Steve Israel got hurt, but the Patriots had no one to replace him at right cornerback. You see Dave Wohlabaugh and that Cleveland Browns team of his on the rise, and you thank your lucky stars for Damien Woody.

Of all the cuts that were made over the years, perhaps the release of Shawn Jefferson was the unwisest. In letting Jefferson bolt to the Falcons last year, the Patriots took a huge gamble on the development of Tony Simmons. Simmons, who now runs lousy routes for the Indianapolis Colts, made the letting go of Jefferson a decided blunder on the part of the Patriots.

In 2000, the Patriots were forced to start Troy Brown. Despite putting up pretty good numbers, Brown was out of his element in the two-WR slot. Brown’s forte is the three-slot, and in third down situations. But with Jefferson’s departure, and the bust that Simmons had become, Brown had to start. There was no one else that could.

Now in 2001, the Patriots finally replaced Jefferson. They landed one of their best-ever free agent plums in David Patten.

Except that Brown is still starting. What gives?

The real problem here is that it is not Jefferson’s talent that is missing right now. It is Jefferson’s leadership, and the brotherly relationship he had with Terry Glenn, that the Patriots could use right now.

To say nothing of Glenn.

Jefferson was quoted by a Boston newspaper this week, saying that he could have kept Glenn on the straight and narrow if he had stayed in New England. Jefferson was one of Glenn’s closest friends on the team, and provided some support for the troubled one-slot receiver. Now that Jefferson has been gone for a year and a half, Glenn finds himself the subject of assault charges, playing for a team that tried to place him on the reserve-left camp list, and playing for a coach who would love nothing better than to kick his posterior off the team.

The tandem of Glenn and Jefferson gave the Patriots perhaps their best wideout tandem in team history. Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson were a great pair, as were Randy Vataha and Darryl Stingley or Irving Fryar and Morgan. But in the Super Bowl season of 1996, Glenn and Jefferson gave Drew Bledsoe two elusive targets, and Bledsoe’s passing stats went through the roof.

When Glenn came on board in 1996 to join Jefferson, the two combined for 140 catches. Glenn had 90 of them, of course, to set a rookie record. Jefferson had a better average (15.4 yards per catch, which led the team among qualifiers). Bledsoe threw for just over 4,000 yards that year, and just a tad under a 60 percent completion rate. Bledsoe did have Ben Coates in his passing arsenal also, but Jefferson’s presence caused teams to not want to double-cover Glenn that much, if at all.

In Atlanta, Jefferson has flourished, if his new team hasn’t. With Vick on board, things are looking up if Jefferson and Mathis can remain intact as the Falcon wideout combo. In Mathis, Jefferson has a partner who is a very good compliment in speed and ability.

But in New England, Jefferson had Glenn. One can only wonder what would have happened if Jefferson had stayed. Jefferson didn’t want to leave, but the Patriots didn’t bother to pursue him. The Falcons scooped him right up.

It is a fair thing to say that the Patriots probably don’t pursue Patten if Jefferson stays. One could also conclude that if Glenn were not among the leading NFL manchildren, the tandem of Glenn and Patten (with Brown in the slot) would rival any such pair in the league.

Bill Parcells got the most out of Glenn, largely by attacking his manhood. But did Jefferson get the second most? Glenn’s life since Jefferson left has been nothing short of a shambles.

Given the dynamics of the situation, it’s hard to say. The Patriots could be much better off in the long run with Patten instead of Jefferson. Jefferson in 32, Patten is 27. Patten is locked up until 2004. Two weeks ago, Patten enjoyed a game such that Jefferson has never known, nor will he likely ever.

But any football fan who follows the Patriots has to be gnashing their teeth at the Glenn situation. You aren’t quite sure how Glenn’s hammy feels. You are sure that Bill Belichick hates this guy’s guts. Glenn has the worst agent on the planet. The one game Glenn plays this year, he looks Honolulu-bound in just one half.

Yet Glenn is likely to sit the rest of the year, and will likely be moved after the year.

Would all this be happening if Jefferson were still here?

Patriot Nation should just wring their hands and get used to a future of Patten and Brown. And maybe Tom Brady, too.

And pretty soon, one of those guys that Vick drives back 20 yards with a bullet will be our old number 84.

Posted Under: Uncategorized

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