Philadelphia Eagles safety John Sanders, not cornerback Herman Edwards, was defending on Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Wallace Francis on the controversial 49-yard pass reception in the fourth period of the National Football Conference playoff game Sunday. Quotes attributed to Edwards in Monday's editions should have been attributed to Sanders. The Washington Post regrets the error.
On a rainy day in Georgia, another episode in the season of the Fantastic Falcon Finish unfolded today.
Steve Bartkowski threw two long touchdown passes and Tim Mazzetti kicked two extra points in the final five minutes to wipe out a 13-0 Philadelphia lead. But Atlanta's 14-13 victory was not assured until Eagle kicker Mike Michel missed a 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining.
When Michel's kick sailed wide right-barely-the Fulton County Stadium scoreboard flashed: "You Got to Believe."
Later, someone asked Atlanta wide receiver Wallace Francis, who caught the 37-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 left that tied the game, 13-13, what he thought the scoreboard message meant.
"Miracles," he replied. "That's what happens when you never give up."
With their latest miracle, the Falcons advanced into the second round of the National Football Conference playoffs against Dallas on Saturday in Irving, Tex.
Michel doubled in brass at Stanford as punter and kicker but, in two years in the NFL, had never tried a field goal before missing a 42-yard attempt in today's third quarter. Let go by Miami in early season, Michel was picked up by the Eagles to punt and was forced into placement duty after Philadelphia's regular kicker, Nick Mike-Mayer, suffered a season-ending rib injury five weeks ago.
The Eagles finished the regular season unable to kick a field goal, and with Michel having missed three of 12 extra points.
He missed another PAT today, eventually a killer.
In the gloom of the Philadelphia locker room, Michel had no excuses.
"I just didn't hit it good enough," Michel said in a voice that occasionally cracked with emotion. "I thought it was going to come back in. Usually I have a hook. This time, it didn't.
"It's something I've got to live with all year. But I'll come back. It's just something that happens. What else can you say?"
The Falcons, meanwhile, were exulting over still another of those phenomenal rallies that have characterized their entire season.
For most of this chilly, damp day they were deep in the hole, the result of two interceptions, three fumbles and a no-results offense.
But this was the Falcon team that had pulled out four regular-season games with touchdown passes or field goals in the final 10 seconds of play.
The great comeback began with 8:16 to play and the Eagles 13 up courtesy of Harold Carmichael's 13-yard touchdown catch in the first period and a one-yard Wilbert Montgomery dive over tackle in the third.
The Falcons stayed alive only because Eagle running back Mike Hogan fumbled on the Atlanta 15 in the fourth quarter, and Fulton Kuykendall recovered. Atlanta took over and drove 85 yards to score.
The play that players on both sides agreed turned the game around came on second and 10 at the Atlanta 26. Falcon quarterback Bartkowski threw deep for Francis, with Eagle cornerback Herman Edwards in perfect position for an interception.
The two went up for the football, and when they came down, officials ruled that Francis had possession. Edwards was hopping mad and insisted then and later that he had been robbed, but the Falcons kept the ball.
Philadelphia Coach Dick Vermeil argued that Francis had been guilty of offensive interference in the battle to catch the ball. "It was offensive interference all the way." Vermeil said. "They (the officials) just blew it."
Whatever, the Falcon drive survived and four plays later, Bartkowski passed 19 yards to tight end Jim Mitchell for a touchdown. The point after by Mazzetti cut the Eagle's lead to 13-7, with 4:56 left.
Now the cry of "Dee-fense, Dee-fense" echoed through the stadium, and the Falcons responded. The Eagles failed to pick up a first down and Michel's 32-yard put was taken at the Falcon 40 by Billy Ryckman.
He was flung immediately for a four-yard loss by Cleveland Franklin, but the Eagle special-teamer had a handful of Rychman's face mask. The normal penalty for a unintentional face mask is five yards. But officials ruled an intentional foul - Vermeil again vehemently disagreed-and the Falcons were in business at the Eagle 49 with three minutes left. the field. Quarterback Ron Jaworski left.
Six plays later, on third and 10 at the Eagle 37, Bartkowski dropped back to pass for the last time today. He pump-faked, then spotted Francis streaking down the middle of the field wide open.
Francis, who caught six passes in all for 135 yards, turned back toward the ball, caught it against his chest at the two and fell backward into the end zone. Mazzetti, the former Philadelphia bartender, kicked the decisive point.
The Eagles came right back down the field. Quarterback Ron Jaworski marching them fron their 34 to first down at the Atlanta 16 with 27 seconds to play.
Jaworski's pass intended for Carmichael over the middle was batted down at the line of scrimmage; 0:22 left.
On second down, a pass to Carmichael in the left corner of the end zone was slightly out of the diving grasp of the 6-foot-8 wide receiver. Now, with 17 seconds remaining, the Eagles were out of timeouts and Vermeil opted to try the field goal on third down.
"I thought about one more pass," Vermeil said, "but we might not have gotten out of bounds and been able to try the field goal. It also could have been intercepted."
So it was Michel's moment.He had been shaky all afternoon. His first extra-point attempt off the soggy turf went wide left. "I just missed it," he said.
A 42-yard field-goal try in the third quarter was short. "I slipped," he said. And his successful conversion had been partially blocked, just barely sneaking over. Slipped again, Michel noted.
Now the Falcons called time to rattle Michel, who insisted, "I wasn't thinking about missing, it didn't bother me."
The snap and hold were perfect, and a moment after his foot connected, Michel seemed to jump for joy. But the ball never did curve back inside, missing wide right by inches. Soon the little kicker was flat on his back, holding his head.
And the Falcons were celebrating. So were their fans. Hundreds of spectators swarmed onto the field. Security men needed five minutes to clear the gridiron so the Falcons could take over at their 20 with 13 seconds left. Bartkowski fell on the football, the clock ran out and the Falcons were alive. Still.