Mora's focus keeps MNF in perspective

ATLANTA - Preparing this week for his 25th game as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Jim Mora was too focused on immediate demands to consider how much he's changing the face of a formerly beleaguered franchise.

A win tonight over the New York Jets would give Atlanta two Monday night victories in the same season for the first time, but such trivia mostly holds meaning to those who remember "General" Bob Lee's win over Minnesota in 1973, former bartender Tim Mazzetti's five field goals against the Los Angeles Rams in '78 or that rotten egg the Falcons laid in a blowout loss to San Francisco in 1992, their first season in the Georgia Dome.

No, Mora's team cares only that he has a 16-8 record as their coach and that Atlanta won a division title and advanced to the NFC title game in his first season.

"You can't underestimate what coach Mora has brought to this organization in terms of energy, accountability and attention to detail," Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler said. "He's the difference between what we were and what we are today."

Crumpler's history with the team dates to 2001 when he was a second-round pick chosen on the same day the Falcons drafted quarterback Michael Vick No. 1 overall. Vick and Crumpler played sparingly as rookies, but they witnessed first-hand the annual meltdown that this time caused the team to lose four of its last five and finish 7-9.

Two years later, in front of the lowest-rated television audience in Monday Night Football history, Atlanta lost 36-0 at St. Louis. The nightmare, which unfolded during a 1-10 stretch with Vick sidelined from Weeks 2-12, was so horrendous that second-year owner Arthur Blank wrote a letter of apology to ABC Television for his club's poorly prepared performance.

Jim Mora understood how to shoo away ghosts from a franchise before he arrived. Now 43, Mora was 24 and working for the San Diego Chargers when his father, Jim Ernest Mora, led the New Orleans Saints to their first winning season in 1987 since the franchise debuted 20 years earlier.

The son worked for his dad as secondary coach of the Saints from 1992-96 as the team returned to its losing roots.

"I saw it from both sides," the younger Mora said. "When he first got there and started winning, he could've been elected governor in a landslide. When things weren't going so well toward the end, I was really bitter about how he was treated. Later on, I learned how to deal with all that, but it took some time to put it in perspective."

Mora already has shooed away some ghosts from his new team. He opened the 2004 season with a victory over his former team, the 49ers, but what the moment notable for the Falcons was ending a 10-game losing streak at the former Candlestick Park.

In Week 2, Atlanta avenged some of its poor play in years past against the Rams. The Falcons won 34-17 to beat St. Louis for the first time in eight tries.

Leading Atlanta to the NFC title game four months later capped Mora's first year as a success. He began 2005 with a 14-10 victory over Philadelphia, which left the Falcons 7-18 all-time on Monday Night Football and still owning the lowest winning percentage (.280) in the program's 35-year history.

Mora is smart enough to use such information with his players only when it's beneficial. For example, a win over the Jets, who enter 2-4 with losses in three of their last four games, could cause him to trumpet the performance and praise the Monday night effort as a franchise first.

A loss would guarantee no mention of Atlanta's past problems on the Monday stage.

"Somebody told me this is the third best start in Falcons' history, and we're still finding a lot wrong with this football team, and I think that's good to an extent," Mora said last week. "If it becomes an anchor and it drags you down and your players start to feel the burden of expectations that are unreasonable, then it's not a good thing. I don't think we're at that point. I think we're at a good spot."

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