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Falcons, Broncs rally to Miami; Down 13, Atlanta roars back to quiet Vikings, 30-27, in overtime 71-yard drive ties it at 0: 49


MINNEAPOLIS -- It was almost as if the Atlanta Falcons had pulled the plug at the Metrodome yesterday.

As Morten Andersen's 38-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with 3: 08 remaining in the first overtime period, the boisterous Minnesota fans suddenly fell silent.

They could almost hear a Super Bowl trip slip away.

The poised Falcons not only beat the Vikings, 30-27, in the NFC title game to earn their first Super Bowl berth, against the Denver Broncos, but they also trumped the noisy Vikings fans in a game for the ages.

Using a silent snap count, the Falcons didn't jump offside once and rolled up 427 yards, climaxed by a 71-yard drive that tied it with 49 seconds left in regulation and a 70-yard drive in overtime that set up the winning field goal.

Andersen's game-winner was from the same spot where the Vikings' Gary Anderson had missed with 2: 07 left in regulation. Anderson, who had made 46 straight field-goal attempts in the regular season and playoffs dating to last season, was wide left by inches on a 38-yarder that would have given the Vikings a 10-point lead. The Falcons' Andersen said: "I didn't have a perfect year, but I had a perfect Sunday and that's important."

"This is a part of field-goal kicking," the Vikings' Anderson said. "You have to be a man about it. Unfortunately, that one didn't go through. Most of them have, which makes it bitterly disappointing."

"Tony Martin said to me all week that Gary Anderson was going to miss a field goal and that was going to be the difference," Falcons running back Jamal Anderson said. "When Anderson lined up for the field goal, Tony said this was the one he was going to miss. You can't be perfect all season. When he missed that field goal, it was like destiny."

The Falcons celebrated in the hushed stadium after the game, and even coach Dan Reeves, who underwent quadruple-bypass heart surgery 33 days ago, did their signature "Dirty Bird" dance.

"No one believed it but us. Think about it. You guys didn't really believe it. I know you didn't," safety Eugene Robinson told reporters.

Robinson, who went to the Super Bowl the last two years with Green Bay and then signed with the Falcons as a free agent, said: "No one gave us a chance. It feels real good to see your mouths drop. We believed it. We believed we could win."

Despite their 14-2 record, the Falcons were nine-point underdogs against the Vikings, the highest-scoring team in NFL history.

It was 40 years and 20 days since the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants, 23-17, in the NFL's first overtime game and this game may be just as memorable.

It was the first overtime in a conference title game since the Denver Broncos beat the Cleveland Browns, 23-20, in the 1986 AFC title game, in what is known for "The Drive" -- John Elway's 98-yard, game-tying drive.

Reeves was the Denver coach in that game. He lost three Super Bowls as Broncos coach and now will try to beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl. This will be his ninth trip to the Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach or head coach.

The Falcons fell behind 20-7 and kept fighting back in a game that had more twists and turns than a dime-store novel.

Coach Dennis Green, who is now 2-6 in the playoffs, will be second-guessed for decisions at the end of the first and second halves.

The Falcons punted to the Minnesota 18 with 1: 17 left in the first half and the Vikings leading 20-7. The Vikings were going to get the second-half kickoff, and they could have played it safe.

Instead, they attacked. They called three straight passes. The first two were incomplete. On the third one, Chuck Smith knocked the ball from Randall Cunningham and Travis Hall recovered at the Minnesota 14.

On the next play, Chris Chandler threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Terance Mathis to cut the deficit to 20-14 and get the Falcons back in the game.

The Vikings took the opposite tack when they got the ball on their 20 with 49 seconds left in regulation.

They had 30 seconds left after Cunningham scrambled for 7 yards and then threw an incomplete bomb to Randy Moss.

On third-and-three at the Minnesota 27, the Vikings decided to take a knee, let the clock run out and take their chances in overtime.

Explaining the strategy at the end of the first half, Green said: "We were trying to put them away. That was our style all year."

By contrast, he said he had Cunningham take the knee at the end of regulation because "we took two good shots at it and we hoped to get it done. We didn't. Keep in mind, a lot of two-minute football is two downs per first down. If it takes three downs per first down in two-minute drills, you are not on your rhythm."

However, at the end of the first half, the Vikings also had failed on the first two downs and were going for it on third down when Cunningham fumbled.

What probably happened is that after the mishap at the end of the first half, the Vikings didn't want to risk losing the game on a mistake.

Offensive coordinator Brian Billick said: "I'm sure it had to factor in. You don't want to repeat that scenario."

Reeves also made a questionable decision when he passed up a field-goal attempt on fourth-and-four at the Minnesota 24 with six minutes left. Chandler threw an incomplete pass while Reeves, who is supposed to stay calm, screamed that a penalty should have been called on the Vikings.

The Vikings concentrated on stopping Jamal Anderson, and they held him to 67 yards on 23 carries. But they left themselves vulnerable to Chandler's passing, and he threw for 340 yards.

The Falcons, meanwhile, played a soft zone to take away Moss' deep catches, and his longest was his 31-yard score. Moss, who pulled a stomach muscle, also dropped two, one in the end zone.

Reeves said that Chandler's 71-yard drive that tied it "ranks right up there with the drive we had in Cleveland." Halfway through the drive, Chandler bruised his knee and he started limping, but never thought about coming out.

Although their defense was hurt by several injuries, the Vikings still had trouble believing they had lost the game.

Cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock summed up the Vikings' reaction: "Still shocked. Still shocked."

Atlanta 7 7 3 10 3 -- 30

Minnesota 7 13 0 7 0 -- 27

NFL Playoffs

Conference championships


Falcons 30, Vikings 27, OT


Broncos 23, Jets 10

Super Bowl

Denver vs. Atlanta

When: Jan. 31, 6: 18 p.m.

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami TV: Chs. 45, 5

The line: Broncos by 7 2;

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