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Week 10 rewind: Falcons bite dust

CRASH LANDING
Matt Ryan and the Falcons can't get it done.
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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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Maybe the corks didn’t pop at 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday like legend would have you believe.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins still had reason to celebrate.

For the 40th consecutive year, their unique place in NFL history is guaranteed.

No other team has ever posted a perfect season. And in 2012, none will now that the league’s only undefeated club — the Atlanta Falcons — suffered its first loss of the season Sunday in New Orleans after an 8-0 start.

According to lore, Don Shula will sip Dom Perignon and his players shall arrogantly toast each other to relish this moment. That’s because Dolphins legends Dick Anderson and Nick Buoniconti famously began a champagne tradition amongst themselves years ago.

“We’ve been portrayed as a bunch of angry old guys who have big cocktail parties and celebrate,” Shula told FOXSports.com last week. “None of that is true.”

Usually.

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The easiest way to rile Shula or any member of that squad is to proclaim the 1972 Dolphins aren’t the greatest of all-time. That there were other teams who stumbled with a loss or two along the way but were better overall and beat their opponents more convincingly en route to a championship (including the 1973 Dolphins). That they couldn’t compete with today’s bigger-stronger-faster athletes.

All of that is speculation. What the 1972 Dolphins accomplished is steeped in fact.

The inability of any other franchise to roll through a season undefeated makes the achievement even more impressive.

We know the drill by now. Every season, a team or two starts red-hot. Sometimes they even get into December without having lost. Then they stumble or, in the case of the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, expose themselves to defeat by benching starters for health purposes entering the postseason.

The 2007 New England Patriots have come the closest by completing the NFL’s first 16-0 regular season and winning their two playoff games. But the 1972 Dolphins exhaled when New England couldn’t seal the deal, getting upset by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Nowadays, the NFL record book seemingly gets re-written every week. Individual marks that long stood the test of time like Dan Marino’s 5,084-yard passing season have fallen by the wayside.

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But ask Marino or any record-holder who never won a Super Bowl whether they would trade that solo distinction for a Super Bowl ring. They wouldn’t think twice before answering yes.

The 1972 Dolphins are a perfect example of what “team” is all about. When future Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese went down with a broken leg midway through the season, 38-year-old backup Earl Morrall admirably filled in. The Dolphins had three standout running backs — Mercury Morris, Jim Kiick and another future Hall of Famer in Larry Csonka — who shared carries and didn’t whine about not being the bell-cow. Plus, what speaks louder about shelving egos and buying into a collective goal than the “No-Name Defense” nickname embraced by Bill Arnsparger’s stingy unit?

As the years go by, the on-field memories fade and more members of the 1972 Dolphins pass away. Every player on the roster now qualifies for Social Security. And while he remains active and sharp as a tack, it’s hard to fathom that Shula is now 82 years old and almost two decades removed from coaching.

Yet the 1972 legend remains larger than ever.

As part of a game promotion earlier this season, members of that team distributed Dolphins caps to fans with “1972 — Still Perfect” embroidered on the back. Yet another book ('Undefeated' by Mike Freeman) written about that season was published this year revealing even more about an already well-chronicled group.

I spoke with players from the 1972 Dolphins for a team history book I wrote in 2003 called "Miami Dolphins: Colorful Tales of the Aqua and Orange." One of the most poignant quotes came from Griese.

“After the 1972 season, we just thought that some team was going to do it again,” he said. “It’s not that easy to do, though. With the parity that exists today, anyone can beat anyone. It points out what a great job coach Shula did in bringing everyone’s focus where it needed to be.

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“To me, what we did gets more special every year.”

Cheers.

Here’s a look at the Falcons-Saints game and the rest of Sunday’s games in this week's Marvez Rewind column:

New Orleans 31, Atlanta 27: Even when unbeaten, Atlanta’s season-long struggles rushing the football and stopping the run were reason for concern. Both proved costly against the Saints. Michael Turner gained just 15 yards on 13 carries and was ineffective enough that Atlanta passed on five of seven plays inside the Saints 5-yard line in the fourth quarter. The Falcons only netted a field goal with a Saints goal-line stand securing the victory with 1:42 left. Atlanta also was gouged for 148 rushing yards, including a 56-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown jaunt by Chris Ivory that reinvigorated the Saints and their raucous home crowd after having fallen behind 10-0 in the first quarter. New Orleans remains lousy on defense, surrendering 400-plus yards for the ninth time this season. But the Saints (4-5) are making enough plays, especially on offense, to stick around in the playoff race.

Tampa Bay 34, San Diego 24: No player better reflects the up-and-down Chargers (4-5) than quarterback Philip Rivers. In a six-quarter span dating back to last week’s rout of Kansas City, Rivers had completed 34 of 38 passes with five touchdowns and one interception. Rivers then unraveled with two fourth-quarter interceptions. The first was even inexcusable for a rookie, let alone a nine-year veteran, when Rivers threw across his body while running out of bounds to avoid pressure. Bucs cornerback Leonard Johnson snared the pass and returned it 83 yards for the touchdown that put Tampa Bay (5-4) up for good. As long as Rivers keeps committing turnovers — he’s got 12 interceptions and three fumbles through nine games — the Chargers will remain around .500. That won’t be good enough for head coach Norv Turner to keep his job in 2013.

San Francisco 24, St. Louis 24: The NFL’s first tie since 2008 shouldn’t have ended in such fashion. The Rams squandered two chances to win in overtime with pre-snap penalties that nullified an 80-yard Danny Amendola reception and 53-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal (Zuerlein missed the subsequent 58-yarder following a delay-of-game infraction). 49ers kicker David Akers also earned goat status by misfiring on a 41-yard field goal attempt. With six misses this season, will the 49ers look at making a kicking change? Besides being unable to defeat a double-digit underdog at home, San Francisco also faces the possibility of having to play against Chicago next Monday night without concussed quarterback Alex Smith. To his credit, backup Colin Kaepernick did a solid job in the most extensive action of his second-year NFL career. But there is a major difference in the defensive quality of the Rams and Bears. St. Louis sent a message to two quality rookies suspended for disciplinary reasons (cornerback Janoris Jenkins and wide receiver Chris Givens) with a strong performance despite not having their services. The Rams also found a creative way to keep two drives alive on completed passes by punter Johnny Hekker. But the Rams did make a major special teams gaffe when disappointing rookie Isaiah Pead fumbled a kickoff, setting up the 49ers for a Frank Gore touchdown run.

Denver 36, Carolina 14: At 2-7, Ron Rivera’s firing as Panthers head coach is now considered fait accompli. But what about Cam Newton’s future in Carolina? I’m not saying the Panthers will or necessarily should look to part ways with a quarterback who is one season removed from winning NFL Rookie of the Year honors. Carolina, though, must perform due diligence by trying to analyze just how much upside Newton has and whether the flaws exposed in 2012 — particularly a penchant for high passes and repeated incidents that raised concerns about his maturity and leadership ability — can be fixed. Newton threw a pick-six Sunday for the second time in three games, with Mike Adams’ 40-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter permanently swinging the game in Denver’s favor. In his defense, Newton received scant support from an offensive line that surrendered seven sacks, including one in the end zone for a safety, and a rushing attack that generated a measly 2.5 yards on 21 carries. Some free advice for San Diego — make sure to account for Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller in next Sunday’s game. Miller followed a three-sack effort against Cincinnati with another takedown of Newton, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and six tackles.

Seattle 28, New York Jets 7: Head coach Rex Ryan is one of the few folks outside of Mark Sanchez’s immediate family who believes he should remain New York’s starting quarterback. The long, painful slide from “Sanchize” status continued with a dreadful 9-of-22, one interception outing as the Jets (3-6) lost for the fifth time in six games. Ryan reaffirmed afterward that Sanchez would remain his starter for next Sunday’s game at St. Louis. Whee. The decision speaks volumes about what little faith the Jets have in backup Tim Tebow. Golden Tate now has one more touchdown pass than Tebow this season after the Seahawks wide receiver connected with Sidney Rice for a fourth-quarter score that rubbed more salt in New York’s wounds. Seattle is arguably the NFL’s best home team with a 5-0 record that includes wins over playoff contenders like New England, Minnesota and Green Bay*. The Seahawks, though, won’t enjoy that advantage in the playoffs if they can’t start winning more on the road. Seattle resumes that quest after a bye with consecutive away games against Miami (Nov. 25) and Chicago (Dec. 2).

Dallas 38, Philadelphia 23: In the same vein as Ryan and Sanchez, Eagles head coach Andy Reid reaffirmed that quarterback Mike Vick will retain his starting spot when able to return from a concussion that sidelined him Sunday in the second quarter. Not that it will make a difference at this point. Now at 3-6, the Eagles are out of the playoff picture barring a hot streak that shows no signs of happening. The Cowboys (4-5) are a different story. Dallas has the chance to make a strong run with upcoming games against Cleveland (2-7), Washington (3-6), Philadelphia and Cincinnati (4-5). Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo now has a 20-3 career record in November. Romo weathered a strong Eagles pass rush by completing 19 of 26 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The offense should get another boost if DeMarco Murray (toe) is able to return against the Browns.

Cincinnati 31, NY Giants 13: So why is Eli Manning struggling? Is his arm tired as speculated by NFL analysts Ron Jawowski and Greg Cosell? Is he too busy looking at things? Whatever the reason, Manning as well as his Giants teammates must return from their upcoming bye week with renewed focus after two straight losses. The Bengals (4-5) were so ice cold after four consecutive defeats that not even a game against the defending Super Bowl champions could generate a sellout to lift the local television blackout. That’s a shame considering how inspired Cincinnati played. Andy Dalton threw a career-high four touchdown passes against New York’s struggling secondary, including a scoring strike to wide receiver A.J. Green for the eighth straight game. Cincinnati’s defense was just as sound with end Carlos Dunlap (five tackles, 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries) enjoying his best game of the season. With their next three games against sputtering AFC West foes Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego, the Bengals have a golden chance to work their way back into the AFC playoff picture. The Giants (6-4) don’t get that type of break. New York’s next game is Nov. 25 against visiting Green Bay followed by Washington and resurgent New Orleans.

Baltimore 55, Oakland 20: It was great seeing Ray Lewis back on the sideline, but the Ravens didn’t need a pre-game inspirational speech from their injured linebacker to dismantle Oakland. Having the chance to set records against the slumping Raiders should be motivation enough. One week after Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin became the first NFL player since at least 1940 with three touchdown runs of 45-plus yards, Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones earned a spot in league history with his second kickoff return of at least 105 yards this season. The 55 points scored was a Ravens franchise record and tied for the most ever allowed by the Raiders (3-6). “They punched us in the mouth and we weren’t ready to play,” Raiders defensive back Michael Huff said afterward. The Ravens (7-2) look ready to play in their most critical stretch of the season with games against AFC North rival Pittsburgh (5-3) sandwiched around a Nov. 25 matchup at San Diego.

Tennessee 37, Miami 3: With all due respect to Ray Lewis, it was Titans owner Bud Adams who provided the best motivation for his team in Week 10. After basically threatening to fire everyone in the organization following last Sunday’s 51-20 home loss to Chicago, the Titans (4-6) responded by giving Miami its most lopsided home defeat since 1968. The Dolphins (4-5) played just as sloppily as Tennessee did against the Bears with seven penalties, another dropped interception by cornerback Sean Smith and four turnovers, including a fumble by Reggie Bush that led to his first-half benching by head coach Joe Philbin. Miami allowed a 100-yard rusher (Chris Johnson) for the first time in 22 games and couldn’t contain Titans quarterback Jake Locker, who provided a spark with scrambles in his first start since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 4 against Houston. The Dolphins had better find answers quickly to keep their playoff hopes alive with a Thursday night game looming at Buffalo.

Minnesota 34, Detroit 24: In 2005, Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi split the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. Another tie may be unfolding this year as Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Denver quarterback Peyton Manning continue their weekly “Can You Top This?” competition. As Manning was posting his sixth consecutive 300-yard passing game against Carolina, Peterson was gashing the Lions for 171 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. Peterson now leads the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards and, like Manning, deserves mention in early NFL Most Valuable Player discussion. Speaking of comebacks, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder rebounded from three lackluster outings even without the services of injured wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle). Ponder felt so good after a 221-yard, two touchdown showing that he chided the media for suggesting girlfriend and ESPN reporter Samantha Steele was having a Yoko-like effect on his play. Mind you, Ponder had the advantage of facing a Lions secondary decimated by injuries and poor execution. A better indicator of where Minnesota is at offensively will come Nov. 25 at Chicago.

New England 37, Buffalo 31: Trying to halt an 11-game losing streak at New England was going to be difficult enough without the Bills beating themselves. Although some of the calls were fishy, Buffalo (3-6) couldn’t overcome 14 penalties for 148 yards and three turnovers. Two of them came inside the Patriots 15-yard line, including the game-ending interception in the end zone with 23 seconds remaining. The third occurred at the Bills 13 and led to a Patriots touchdown. With the secondary continuing to founder, New England (6-3) must hope recently acquired cornerback Aqib Talib can provide an instant upgrade when he debuts next Sunday against Indianapolis after completing his four-game NFL drug suspension.

Houston 13, Chicago 6: With Atlanta losing, Houston (8-1) will regain the top spot in my upcoming AP Pro32 power rankings ballot. The Texans dispelled any questions about their physicality by dictating the game to Chicago on a rainy night at Soldier Field. Running back Arian Foster should take a bow after a 102-yard rushing performance and diving two-yard touchdown catch that put Houston ahead, 10-3. The NFL has made tremendous strides toward concussion treatment. But just how much more the league has to go was exposed when Jay Cutler became the latest player to slip through cracks in the initial evaluation process in Colt McCoy-like fashion. The Bears quarterback was pounded so hard on an illegal blow by linebacker Tim Dobbins that Cutler pulled the chinstraps off his helmet in obvious distress after hitting the ground. But nobody — the Bears’ medical staff, teammates, coaches, the assigned NFL press-box “observer” (a contradiction of terms when it comes to spotting concussions), referees, etc. — noticed that Cutler was affected. Cutler was exposed to serious harm by continuing to play until finally being diagnosed at halftime and benched for the game. It was a fitting end to a rough night for Cutler, who committed two of the team’s four first-half turnovers with interceptions. Replacement Jason Campbell couldn’t do enough in the passing game, especially with tight end Kellen Davis adding a crushing fourth-quarter drop to a first-quarter fumble.

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Broncos, Titans, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Panthers, Ravens, Chargers, Texans, Peyton Manning, Steve Smith Sr., Ray Lewis, Adrian Peterson, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Michael Turner, Mike Adams, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Tim Dobbins, Adrian Peterson, Mark Sanchez, Sean Smith, Tim Tebow, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Christian Ponder, Greg Zuerlein, Chris Givens

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