Now that the dust has settled and the celebrations have ended following Sunday's miraculous win, the Falcons' focus now shifts to the San Francisco 49ers, who will be visiting the Georgia Dome in just five days for the 2013 NFC Championship Game—and the right to play in the Super Bowl.
Falcons Can Exhale
Five years of criticism and frustration went flying out the window after the Falcons finally earned a playoff victory, their first since 2004. Now that the doubt surrounding Atlanta's ability to perform in the postsason has been somewhat erased, the team will be able to head into next week's game a bit more relaxed, and hopefully more confident as well.
"It just lets us breathe a little bit," running back Michael Turner said of the win. "Now, we can go out there and play the way we’re capable of playing."
John Abraham Says He'll Play
One of the biggest concerns for the Falcons heading into the NFCCG is the health of defensive end John Abraham, who re-tweaked an injured ankle last week against the Seahawks. However, regardless of how effective he may be, the four-time Pro Bowler claims he will in fact play on Sunday, regardless of how well he feels.
"Oh yeah, you know me, you can't keep me out of that game," Abraham, who led the Falcons with 10 sacks this season, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're going to treat the (heck) out of it."
Kaepernick a Tall Task for Atlanta's D
After effectively containing one mobile quarterback last week, the Falcons will be tasked with stopping another on Sunday when Colin Kaepernick comes to town. The young QB broke an NFL record against the Packers in the divisional round with
"(Kaepernick is) a much taller player than Russell -- and probably faster," Falcons coach Mike Smith told NFL.com's Jeff Darlington on Monday. "It's going to be a big challenge."
One of the keys for the Falcons will be to keep Kaepernick in the pocket and unable to scramble to the outside. This means Atlanta will need to get substantial pressure on the 49ers' quarterback, which likely require some of Mike Nolan's complex blitz schemes and a productive Abraham.
"The execution for the 49ers on the read option was excellent," Packers coach Mike McCarthy told The Sacramento Bee. "... We did not do a very good job of keeping (Kaepernick) in the pocket. He was able to get out of the pocket for a number of big conversions there in the first half. We weren't able to get off the field and try to make some adjustments in our defensive calls, pass-rushing lanes and so forth. We did not accomplish that."
Falcons Starting to Go for the 'Long Ball'
Contrary to what we've seen in recent years, the Falcons have begun to implement the long ball into their offensive playbook this season under newly hired offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. And with receivers like Julio Jones and Roddy White, why not?
"They’re up there too, and it’s just beginning," Tony Gonzalez said of White and Jones . "These two guys have a chance to do something incredible."
While the weapons at receiver are certainly in place, quarterback Matt Ryan has been criticized for his lack of arm strength, and many believe his inability to throw the ball deep down the field has been one of his biggest weaknesses. However, that appears to have changed this season—as evident by his 47-yard touchdown to White last Sunday against the Seahawks.
"We’ve been saying since the season started that Matt, we felt like, was stronger," Smith said. "I thought that was one of the best long balls he’s thrown all season long."
Falcon Fever Spreading Across Atlanta
Even though Atlanta sports fans tend to have a bad reputation, the Falcons have received very strong support from the locals this year—and new fans seem to be popping up every day.