Monday, October 9, 2017

Buffalo Bills 23 at Atlanta Falcons 17 - October 1, 2017

The Atlanta Falcons suffered an ignominious end to their 2016 season with the biggest Super Bowl collapse in history. So they picked a good time to leave the hideous Georgia Dome, moving across the street to brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This spectacular venue should help fans overcome the Super Bowl hangover, and will also attract plenty of visiting fans too. On this occasion, I was one of those visiting fans, as I would be cheering for the Buffalo Bills.

The new venue is easily walkable from downtown, and is served by two MARTA stations should you be coming from farther afield: Vine City to the west, and the Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center station to the east (which should soon be renamed). I was staying about a mile away and walked over, surprised by how many Bills supporters were in town. The stadium is huge, so to get a full shot, you will have to stop a couple of blocks away; the picture above is taken from MLK Jr. Drive, and you can see the Georgia Dome just to the right.

The east side of the stadium is fronted with glass that allows you to look inside. It is known as Window to the City as, when you are inside, you can look out to the Atlanta skyline. This outside area is dubbed Front Porch and it is where you will find the famous Falcon sculpture, which is known as "Rise Up" after the team's motto.

The sculpture is atop a football and stands as high as a four-story building.

It is one of more than 180 art pieces throughout the facility and well worth a few minutes of your time to see the intricate design.

Note that the Front Porch, the sculpture, and the Ring of Honor are all inside the gates. Unlike most venues where your ticket is scanned at the door or just inside, you will go through security and have your ticket scanned outside. There are three gates surrounding the Front Porch and all moved quickly once they opened at 11, two hours before kickoff. The Falcons use only electronic tickets for which you must have a smartphone and app installed, though there is a table that will print your ticket if you are having phone trouble. I asked if they would print one for me as a souvenir, and they said no. I debated destroying my phone and asking again, but I didn't need the stub that much. Still, as someone who collects tickets as a souvenir, I find the trend towards mobile-only tickets very distressing. Teams should always maintain the service to print out a hard ticket upon request.

Anyway, I made my way inside and promptly entered the seating bowl to take the above picture. As you can see, there are three seating levels, with seats in the team colours. The Window to the City is behind one end zone, though the sun is not a problem once the game starts.

On my 2013 trip to all 32 NFL stadiums, the Georgia Dome ranked #31, mostly because of poor customer service. Obviously, owner Arthur Blank had read my post and instituted change because this was one of the friendliest stadiums I have ever visited. Every single staff member was smiling and greeted me with a hello as I made my way around.

These two pictures are taken from the second (below) and third (above) levels in the east end zone, which is known as the Skybridge. There are no seats here, but many fans stand here for the entire game.

Turning around, you see the glass windows. The skyline is actually too spread out to take a good picture, but looking down you can see the crowd around the sculpture.

The concourses are spacious, though they do fill up here as game time approaches. Each level has more or less the same concessions, with your typical fare such as dogs, fries, and soda competing with specialty stands offering pizza, BBQ, and grilled cheese and brisket, among others. The most important thing to note here is that concession prices for many items have been kept low. For example, a regular soda, which you can fill up yourself at one of many stations, is only $2, while a souvenir cup is just $4. Hot dogs are also $2, and other items are similarly priced. Specialty items are slightly more expensive, but I did not see any of the outrageous pricing that goes on at many New York-area stadiums, where a tall boy of crap beer can be $13.

I wandered around each level, trying to get a series of pictures of the seating bowl. I particularly like the two small triangular sections at the 20-yard lines below, a result of angling those sections closer to the end zone so they face more of the field.

In the upper level concourse, you can find the 100-Yard Club, an area with yardlines on the floor, hash marks on the ceiling...

...and pillars with information on current players.

Along the lower concourse is the Hometown Legends display that includes high school helmets for every team in the state. This area gets very crowded as everyone wants to see their school represented.

There is also a small display just below his honouring local stars such as Shannon Sharpe, who played both high school and college football in Georgia.

Just next to this is another interesting artwork, this one by Jamaican-born Nari Ward, who used donated and found shoelaces to make this statement.

One other area worth noting is the AT&T Perch, where dozens of TVs and benches allow you to relax before the game. They even had soccer on!

The roof is shaped like a pinwheel and does open, but on this day it remained closed. YouTube has a quick time-lapse video of the roof closing.

Just below the roof is the scoreboard, which circles the entire stadium. There are several panels, though for most of the game one shows the scoreboard and stats, while the other shows live action and replays. Before the game, the scoreboard is used as part of the introduction, where Rise Up escapes its earthly bonds and flies among flames in an attempt to get the crowd going. It is actually pretty cool.

The panorama shot from the top row at midfield captures much of the stadium. Note that those small triangular sections are not found on the south side of the seating bowl.

Through TicketMaster resellers, I picked up a seat in the first row of the 300 level, which is actually where I prefer to sit. The view is below. The only thing that surprised me was that the seats are somewhat flimsy compared to those at ballparks. I suppose that being inside and used maybe 50 times a year (Atlanta United of the MLS plays here as well) that the seats need not be as sturdy. It certainly wasn't a problem for the game but I wouldn't feel comfortable stepping on them.

Overall, its location, amenities, artwork, history on display, and cheap food make MBS a great stop for sports travelers. For local residents, the Personal Seat License charge (reportedly $45,000 for the best seats) might lead them to think differently, but if you only want to see one game there, you will enjoy it. Especially if your team wins.

The Game

The Bills came in at 2-1, while the Falcons were showing no ill effects after their Super Bowl debacle, winning all three of their games. After a scoreless first quarter, Atlanta got on the board with a short field goal from Matt Bryant. Buffalo followed that with an 8-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in a 9-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Jordan Matthews that gave them the lead. But Atlanta managed a last-second touchdown, going 77 yards in 9 plays to take a 10-7 advantage into the half.

After the Bills went three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, Atlanta took over. On a 3rd-and-9 from around midfield, Matt Ryan was hit as his arm moved forward. It looked like an incomplete pass, and even the referee signaled as such, but no whistle blew. Rookie Tre'Davious White picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown. Of course, the play had to be reviewed and I was sure the call would be reversed, but surprisingly it stood. Touchdown Bills! On the next Falcon drive, Ryan was picked off by Micah Hyde on a deep ball, and the Bills had their second turnover in two drives. They then proceeded to take 11:20 off the clock on a beautiful 19-play drive that gained 102 yards of offense (minus 20 penalty yards) that finished with a 24-yard chip shot for new kicker Steven Hauschka.

The Falcons followed that with a great drive of their own, marching 75 yards in 10 plays as Ryan found Justin Hardy in the end zone for a 3-yard score. The extra point by Bryant tied the game at 17 with 7 minutes to go. The Bills got one big play on their ensuing possession that allowed Hauschka to make a 56-yard field goal to retake the lead. On the next drive, Ryan was again torched by Hyde, who dove to catch a deflected pass. Hyde caught the ball as its nose touched the turf, which I thought meant an incomplete pass, but a review ruled otherwise. Apparently there is a new rule that says if the player has possession when the nose touches the turf, the catch is good, and the Bills had their third takeaway on the afternoon. With 3:27 to go, they needed to kill some clock, but the Falcons used all three of their timeouts and the Bills were unable to get a first down. Hauschka kicked a key 55-yarder to make it 23-17 but Ryan had 3:06 left to work some magic, which I fully expected him to do. Slowly he led his charges down the field, reaching the Bills 14 with a minute to go. Two incompletions on 1st and 5 were followed by a 4-yard gain. On 4th and 1, Ryan threw a short pass that was knocked away and amazingly the Bills had won! I was shocked and deliriously happy.

Their 23-17 victory was the first time I had seen them win on one of my trips, after losses in Minnesota, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Oakland. I have seen them win over the Jets at MetLife Stadium, but that was not nearly as exciting as this and made for a very enjoyable plane ride home.

Next Up

I'm heading to Kansas City this coming weekend to visit a friend and will check out a couple of events, including an NBA preseason game at Sprint Center, along with a Sporting KC match. The following weekend I'll head to Vegas for a Golden Knights game and then Los Angeles for the winless Chargers to check off a couple of new Club 123 venues. The blog is no longer updated on a timely basis, but check back on occasion, as I will get around to it eventually.



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