ATLANTA (AP)—Jim Mora headed off the field with his 9-year-old son, holding aloft the game ball in tribute to those fans who stuck around to the end.
Mora is a rookie coach in Atlanta, but he knew this was a special moment.
The Falcons don’t win championships very often.
T.J. Duckett set a team record by rushing for four touchdowns and Atlanta clinched just the third division title in franchise history, wrapping up the NFC South with a 35-10 rout of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
“I haven’t been here very long, so it’s hard to grasp what it means to the fans,” Mora said. “But I could see the looks on their faces. I could see they appreciated it.”
Atlanta, which last won a division title in 1998 on the way to its only Super Bowl, flopped badly with a chance to clinch last week. The Falcons (10-3) were blown out 27-0 at Tampa Bay.
But they had their way against the hapless Raiders, taking control with a 21-point second quarter.
The Falcons built a 35-3 lead before Oakland scored a late touchdown, so most of the sellout crowd at the Georgia Dome didn’t hang around to celebrate.
Afterward, many players donned black caps that said, “Division Champions. 2004 NFC South.” Only two of them—linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive lineman Travis Hall—are holdovers from the last championship season.
“I didn’t think it would take this long to win again,” said Brooking, who was a rookie in 1998. “It really puts things in perspective for me.”
Appropriately, Hall had a hand in the game’s biggest play, deflecting a pass by Oakland’s Kerry Collins. The ball went right to former Raiders defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who returned the interception 39 yards for a touchdown that gave the Falcons a 21-3 halftime lead.
The Falcons’ less-than-stellar history is apparent from the banners hanging from the Georgia Dome roof. There are only three, marking division titles in 1980 and ’98, along with the NFC championship in that latter season.
Now, it’s time to put up a fourth.
Oakland (4-9) won’t be raising any banners this season. The Raiders had three turnovers and didn’t reach end zone until Zack Crockett’s meaningless TD with just under 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
“You turn the ball over like we did and you just really make it hard on yourself,” coach Norv Turner said.
After going 5-11 a year ago, Atlanta has reached double-figure wins for only the fourth time in its 39-year history. The Falcons were closing in on the NFC’s No. 2 seed, which would ensure a first-round bye and guarantee at least one home game in the playoffs.
“This is nice,” Mora said, “but there are other things we want to do.”
The Raiders fumbled on their first offensive play, though they did score first on Sebastian Janikowski’s 52-yard field goal.
Allen Rossum’s 50-yard punt return got the Falcons rolling in the second quarter. Two plays later, Duckett got loose up the middle, ran through Raiders safety Stuart Schweigert and cruised 28 yards for the longest touchdown of his three-year career.
Duckett didn’t have to work as hard for his other TDs. Each time, the 254-yard back trotted on the field when the Falcons got close to the end zone, powering in from the 2, 4 and 1.
He broke the Atlanta scoring record shared by 13 players, most recently Tim Dwight in the final game of the 1999 season.
“You want to attack the defense before they attack you,” Duckett said.
While he’s used to scoring, the other Atlanta TD came from a most unlikely player. Coleman had the first score of his career on the interception return, burying his former team.
“I was just trying to get to the end zone,” he said with a smile. “It seemed like I ran 60 yards.”
The Falcons were true to form. The NFL’s top running team surpassed 200 yards for the fourth time this season, finishing with 219. Warrick Dunn led the way with 103 on 25 carries.
Michael Vick, coming off a miserable performance in Tampa Bay, played a solid game—13-of-20 passing for 145 yards, along with 31 yards on two carries.
“They run the ball a lot,” said Raiders safety Ray Buchanan, who spent the last seven years with the Falcons. “They come out smash-mouthing, just trying to run you down.”
The Raiders lost nose tackle Ted Washington early in the game with a sprained foot, and defensive lineman Warren Sapp sat out the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. … The Falcons converted a season-high 10-of-16 on third down. … Oakland, which had gone three games without a sack, finally got one when Tim Johnson and Charles Woodson combined to take down Vick on Atlanta’s third offensive play. But that was it.