Koenen celebrates another homecoming with crucial kick for NFC-leading Atlanta Falcons
Dec. 20, 2010
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
JOE SUNNEN - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Homecoming or not, Michael Koenen was just happy to help the Atlanta Falcons pick up a win on Sunday, Dec. 19, at Qwest Field in Seattle.
That the Falcons clinched a playoff berth before the game even started - thanks to a loss by the New York Giants - and then moved one step closer to wrapping up the best record in the NFC and home field advantage throughout the postseason via a 34-18 win over the Seattle Seahawks made it that much sweeter.
But playing in front of nearly 70 family members and friends, well, that was the best part for the former Ferndale High School and Western Washington University standout.
"You couldn't ask for a better night in Seattle," Koenen said. "It was a great game and it was great to see all my friends and family in the stands. And whenever you win it's a great feeling."
Of course, catching a glimpse of Koenen on the field, other than while he was trying to stay warm on the sidelines, was a chore thanks to Atlanta's efficient offense. Koenen wasn't called on to punt until the third quarter, and plays the blink-and-you'll-miss-me role of kickoff specialist. When he did get on the field he made the most of his opportunities.
Koenen punted four times, dropping the ball inside the Seattle 20-yard line twice, and helped keep the Seahawks dangerous return man Leon Washington in check thanks to three touchbacks.
"We knew that special teams would be key for us today," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "I thought that our kickers did an excellent job of kicking the football as well as punting. Leon Washington was somebody we were very concerned about. I thought that we neutralized him during the ball game. I think that was very key to the field position."
Koenen's first punt of the game came with just over 10 minutes to play in the third quarter and traveled 56 yards to the Seahawks 4-yard line. Even better, it helped set up a defensive touchdown. On the first play of Seattle's drive following the punt Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was sacked in the end zone, fumbled the ball, and Atlanta's Jonathan Babineaux pounced on it for the score to give the Falcons a 24-10 lead.
"Any time you can help with field position like that it's a great benefit for the team and that's ultimately what I'm trying to do," Koenen said.
The trip to play in Seattle was the first for Koenen and the Falcons since his rookie season in 2005, but it was his third time playing against the Seahawks. The Falcons lost the first meeting 21-18, but returned the favor in 2007 with a 44-41 win. Playing at Qwest Field never gets old, though, he said.
"It's just fun for me to go out and play in front of my family," Koenen said. "They love me regardless."
There were plenty of supporters in the stands. His mother, Cheryl, said in a phone interview earlier in the week that around 48 family and friends would be making the trip to the game and another 30 or so people from his wife's side also made the trip. The group filled a large part of the upper portion of section 123 and stood and cheered when he came on the field. While the group didn't display any large banners this time around as did during his first trip to play the Seahawks at Qwest, many wore T-shirts that said "Koenen's Kickers" and waved red and black pom-poms.
A few even wore Atlanta Falcons No. 9 jerseys.
"The tickets were a little harder to come by this time, but we got some," his mother said. "Watching Michael play here in Seattle is Christmas for us."
While having the chance to play in front of so many familiar faces was special for Koenen, the real present for the Atlanta Falcons could come at the end of the season. With a 12-2 record, the Falcons look like one of the late season favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this season. While Koenen is content to take things one game at a time, he's excited about the way the team has been playing so far.
"We just keep pushing along," Koenen said. "We're not getting too up or too down and we're just continuing to play good football. We just work hard throughout the week and then we see what happens at the end of game."
Atlanta's potential for making a deep run in the playoffs is another reason the trip to Seattle was special for Koenen. If the Falcons are playing into late January it could be quite some time before he makes it back to Washington state again.
"It might be a while before I get to come back and see everybody again," Koenen said. "So to get a little bit of time here in the middle of the season feels great."
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