ATLANTA -- Morten Andersen dressed all in black after Sunday's miserable 17-14 loss to Minnesota, an ominous sign of blight within a silent Atlanta Falcons' locker room.
The Hall of Fame kicker with 18 years of tread on his leg stood before the television lights and notepads trying to explain how someone of his late-game moxie could hit an ugly 39-yard fade for a game-tying field goal attempt.
"Maybe I punched it," Andersen said. "It certainly wasn't pretty, but then again neither was the game."
Falcons-Vikings II had as much punch and drama as Speed II. The boat sank in that film, and Sunday's first impressions of two Super Bowl contenders sank too.
Andersen is not to blame for a stinker that seemed more like an extension of both team's subpar preseasons than a focused beginning of the century's final NFL campaign. This was a team loss, troublesome in many phases.
A year ago, the Falcons preyed on others misfortunes, propelling them into a Super Bowl. But thoughts of 1998's run should officially cease. No team has ever been given a head start based on prior performance.
What the Falcons should learn from Sunday is they'll have no chance at returning to the Super Bowl if their ills remain as widespread.
"We gave the game away early," cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "You can't give another team in the National Football League any gimmes, and we gave them three gimmes."
Two pass interference penalties, one on Buchanan face-guarding Randy Moss, the other on safety Marty Carter for bumping Moss, cost Atlanta 76 yards. Both flags set Minnesota up with first-and-goals, one starting at the 6, the other at the 1.
The Vikings scored touchdowns after each.
"They didn't even have to catch the ball," a perturbed Dan Reeves lamented.
Tim Dwight, who should consider downing kickoffs he receives eight yards deep, fumbled on one return, setting up a chip shot Vikings field goal.
The Bomb Squad, the oft-used moniker of Atlanta's defensive line, recorded zero sacks against the team that gave up a preseason league-high.
"Against receivers like they've got, we've got to pressure (Randall) Cunningham," defensive tackle Shane Dronett said. "He just had way too much time to think."
After a resounding plus-20 in the turnover margin last season, the Falcons created none.
A team formatted on ball control rushing failed to reach triple digits and averaged a meager 3.5 yards as a team.
"You've got to give Minnesota a lot of credit for attacking the line of scrimmage well," Reeves said. "We were running sideways a lot."
Then a reliable kicker shanks two makable scoring chances.
"The good thing is that all of these things are correctable," Reeves said.
With a little caulk, right?.
Some may say this is a harbinger. You'll think the Falcons' angelic nature has evaporated, restoring them to being the Falcons we all know and tend to ignore.
Stop that. The first thing to do is eliminate those knee-jerk reactions that eliminate Atlanta from playoff contention in the second week of September.
Do not judge either team based on this. That's a sign of impatience considering this four-month race just kicked off. Neither the Falcons nor the Vikings can be this mediocre over 16 weeks.
Judge the Falcons on how they respond to this. If the problems of Week 1 are seen in, say, Week 6 or 8, then we can all rewind to Sunday as a precursor.
For now, consider that no one's ever failed a class by bombing the first test.
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