In what has become one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history, the Atlanta Falcons have officially secured home field advantage throughout the 2012 playoffs, doing so for the second time in the last three years.
This feat was accomplished on Saturday night, as the Falcons defeated the Detroit Lions by the score of 31-18 in front of a national audience on ESPN.
Not only will the NFC playoffs go through the Georgia Dome, but Atlanta has also secured a bye in the first round of postseason action, giving them a week of rest following next Sunday's contest against the Buccaneers (which will also be played at the Dome).
Here are today's headlines...
Why Not Ryan for MVP?
Matt Ryan is playing the best football in his career right now, and he's heating up at the best possible time. The MVP candidate set a franchise mark on Saturday by completing 22 passes in a row (a streak that started against the Giants) and tossing three touchdown passes. Two of those TDs—one to Roddy White, one to Julio Jones—were as perfect as one could hope for.
In his last two games, the BC alum has completed 48 of 60 passes for 549 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. You can't ask for much more than that.
"There's a lot of politics that come along with being MVP and things like that," Roddy White said. "But the guy has been here five years and he's won a lot of games. Come on. He's won 13 already this year and put us into this position going into the playoffs. And his numbers are up there with everybody else's. I don't see anybody out there that's better than him."
Johnson Breaks Rice's Record
Unless you're a bitter UGA supporter, it's hard not to love Calvin Johnson and what he's done for the game of football. While the Falcons were able to keep the superstar wideout from reaching the end zone on Saturday, he did rack up 225 yards—and broke one of the league's biggest records in the process.
On a catch in the fourth quarter, Johnson leapfrogged Jerry Rice for first all-time in receiving yards in a season, and now sits at 1892 yards; Rice's mark was 1848, set back in 1995. The next step for Megatron is to reach the 2,000 milestone, which can be done next week against the Bears.
"It's an accomplishment that took a lot of work," Johnson said after the game. "You're still in the moment – in the play that just happened, so I was still focused. I don't think I even said anything when I gave my dad the ball. I just gave him a hug. But when I think back on it, it's a special moment.
Defense Plays Well Enough to Win
Despite allowing Calvin Johnson's record-setting performance and 443 passing yards from Matthew Stafford, the Falcons defense played a strong game. Mike Nolan's unit allowed just one touchdown despite all the yards surrendered and created three turnovers in the process. This performance was akin to the way the New England Patriots D has played this season: they gave up a lot of yards, sure, but they also tightened up in the end zone and forced some impressive turnovers.
Two Receivers are Better Than One
Even though Calvin Johnson was the receiver to gain all the attention on Saturday, it was the WR duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones that led its team to victory. White had one of the best games of his career, with 153 yards and two touchdowns to boot. Jones, who is of a similar mold as Johnson, had one of the finest touchdowns of the season in the second quarter, receiving a 16-yard pass from Ryan and dragging both feet in the back of the end zone for six points.
It was clear from the getgo that the Lions were trying hard to contain tight end Tony Gonzalez—and they did, limiting the tight end to just one catch. However, when you face a team that has three Pro Bowl-caliber receivers (Gonzalez included), and you hone in on just one, you're just asking for trouble.
"It's pick your poison," former Falcon Chris Houston said of Atlanta's receiving corps.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
We've Only Just Begun
When Atlanta earned home field advantage two years ago, it was an accomplishment worthy of exceessive celebration. This time around, that couldn't be further from the case.
"This is a different team this year. This is a very different team from last year, from two years ago, from three years ago," White said. "Our players are much more mature. I think we’re ready to go. We feel like we’ve got a lot to prove in the playoffs because we haven’t won a game, and we want to win one so bad."
This team understands that they haven't won anything worthwhile yet, and merely earning the top seed in the NFC doesn't guarantee any victories. For the Falcons to truly take the next step as a franchise and validate themselves in the eyes of the national media, they're going to have to win some games in January—and perhaps one in February, as well.