The Atlanta Falcons joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1966, and somehow managed to string together a 3-11 record behind a manageable line of talent, mainly linebacker Tommy Nobis. In 1967, the Falcons were expected to take a one or two game step forward, but the bottom fell out completely.
Norb Hecker is best remembered for being the first coach in Atlanta Falcons history, but it certainly isn’t a prestigious honor considering his career record there. In two full seasons and three games in Atlanta, Hecker accumulated a record of 4-26-1. His teams couldn’t score, they couldn’t stop anyone, and they put on an ugly performance every single week. He’s the late 1960’s version of Gus Bradley.
In terms of offense for Atlanta in 1967, there wasn’t much. Randy Johnson was the starting quarterback for 12 games, winning one, tying one, and losing ten. Johnson completed 49.3% of his passes for 1,620 yards, 10 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He only netted 5.6 yards-per-pass attempt. The other two guys who started games, Terry Nofsinger and Steve Sloan, did little to help the team, going 0-2 as starters while throwing 1 touchdown between them to 4 interceptions. The teams’ grand quarterback rating stood at 50.1, a mark even Jake Locker would blush at.
In total, the passing game could only bring 2,144 yards, 13 touchdowns and 25 interceptions to the table. A stark contrast to their opponents’ numbers, which we’ll get to later.
Junior Coffey finished as the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 180 times for 722 yards, 4 touchdowns and a perfect 4.0 yards-per-carry average. He was the only good runner the team had, as the next guy on the rushing list (Randy Johnson, the quarterback) tried to run 24 times for 144 yards and a touchdown. The running game gained 1,303 yards, only 6 touchdowns and a 3.8 yards-per-carry average as a team.
The offense in total struggled mightily: they averaged only 3.9 yards-per-play, turned the ball over 39 times, only averaged 215.2 yards-per-game and scored only 175 points, a 12.5 per-game average that predictably ranked dead last in the league.
On the defensive side, it was bleak. There are no sack numbers since it was 1967 and they didn’t start recording them until 1984, so let’s just assume they got 0 on the year. Ken Reaves led the team in interceptions with 7, with the rest of the secondary and linebackers providing 10 more. Off of these, they scored two defensive touchdowns. Atlanta gave up a whopping 5.8 yards-per-play, 242.2 yards-per-game passing, 152.7 yards-per-game rushing, 31 passing touchdowns (which was really amazing at that time), 18 rushing touchdowns and 422 total points (30.1 per game), which ranked last in the league.
So there we have it. The league’s worst offense and defense combined with an incompetent coach, injuries, and a brutal division. In Week 9 against Baltimore, Randy Johnson completed just 4 of 12 passes for 22 yards and 2 interceptions. They would lose that game 49-7, putting another notch in the already full blowout column. The game joined others like Week 2 (38-7 loss to San Francisco), Week 3 (23-0 loss to Green Bay), Week 4 (38-7 loss to Philadelphia), Week 8 (37-7 loss to Dallas), and Week 10 (31-3 loss to Los Angeles).
After the year, Norb Hecker was fired after an 0-3 start to 1968. Norm Van Brocklin was brought in and went 2-9 as the interim man, bringing the Atlanta faithful another hideous season in which the Falcons scored only 170 points and gave up 389. Atlanta has never really won anything, and the look on the fans’ faces for this team, the current team (the 5-8 ugly ducklings who still have a chance to win the NFC South), and pretty much any team in history: