For ten or fifteen minutes after this game, I just sat with my laptop in front of me, trying to summon something more than a series of overwhelming emotions and a stupid grin. Eventually I had to give up and walk away, because this dominant Falcons victory over the Seahawks was more than I could process in such a short time.
The Atlanta Falcons do not win like this in the playoffs. They do not win like this against one of the better defensive teams in football, after a week’s rest where lots of things can go wrong, and when Julio Jones has to exit the game. There is the steadily accumulating sediment of history here that suggests that Atlanta should lose a game like this in heartbreaking fashion, but the Falcons did not lose this game. They blew the Seahawks out.
After Seattle jumped out to a 7-0 lead, there was plenty of angst in the fanbase, but it turned out that was about as good as it was going to get for the Seahawks. Atlanta got two interceptions, tons of pressure and a handful of sacks on defense, and the offense just basically did whatever it wanted to against a defense known for shutting down opponents. It was nothing short of a masterful performance, and it laid any remaining doubts I had about this football team to rest. Whether they lose in the next round or win the Super Bowl, I won’t be surprised, and I won’t be unhappy. I’ll obviously be much happier if they win the Super Bowl, though.
That’s because I have something more than hope, now. I have the sense that this offense will remain great for another year with nearly all of its pieces returning, and I have the sense that the defense will improve with another offseason ahead and so many potential young studs hanging around. There’s a sense that the Falcons are building toward something special, and that they might realize it sooner than I had dared dream. This is a team that figures to be an NFC contender over the next few years if they can just avoid any huge mistakes. It’s weird to feel this optimistic, and to have good justification for it.
As far as what lies ahead, let’s not discuss it now. The Falcons can beat the Cowboys or Packers, but we haven’t considered exactly what they’ll need to do in order to get to the Super Bowl, and we won’t even know who they’re playing until tomorrow night. For now, let’s bask in the good feelings and celebrate the kind of win that has been too rare in this franchise’s long history.
On to the full recap.
- Matt Ryan put together his latest MVP-caliber performance in a year full of them. There were two very ugly throws that should have been intercepted, but aside from that and a couple of overthrown balls, he was incredibly sharp, consistently hitting wide receivers in stride, spreading the ball around, and moving well in the pocket. He finished with nearly 350 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle, and regularly found an open man against Richard Sherman. He was, in a word, masterful.
- The ground game picked up over 100 yards, with Tevin Coleman delivering a lot of quality, physical runs, and Devonta Freeman scoring a touchdown and looking like he had no business picking up just 3.2 yards per carry. Even when Freeman isn’t the most efficient man on the field, he wears defenses out, and this running back duo is such a problem for opposing teams.
- Julio Jones missed a huge chunk of this game, but before he left, he destroyed Richard Sherman en route to 6 receptions, 67 yards, and a touchdown. That looks like a pretty pedestrian total for a receiver as great as Julio, but it ignores how open he managed to get and how silly he made Seattle look.
- Once Julio was out, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel stepped up in a major way. Gabriel picked up a huge chunk of yardage on a critical reception, finishing with 4 catches for 71 yards, while Mohamed Sanu threw some nice blocks, picked up four catches for 44 yards, embarrassed Richard Sherman with a circus touchdown grab, and snagged an onside kick late in the game. He really does do it all, and he’s grown into one of the team’s most reliable options.
- Jake Matthews had his struggles and Ryan Schraeder made the Seahawks mad (good), but the line did remarkably well overall in this game, with Alex Mack dominating as we all expect him to. This line has certainly had its shaky moments in the 2016 season, but they’re one of the major reasons this offense has been as good as it has been.
- Brooks Reed had one of his finer games of the year at exactly the right time. He got pressure, had a couple of nice run stops, came up with a second quarter sack, and flushed Russell Wilson out of the pocket on multiple occasions. There have been flashes here, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that Reed was the player Atlanta was hoping for against Seattle, and hopefully it will not be the last time that’s true.
- Jonathan Babineaux looked rejuvenated in this game, as I’d hoped. He had a couple of near-sacks on Russell Wilson, routinely got into the backfield, and was a force against Seattle’s run game, which basically ceased to be a factor after the first quarter of the game. It was great to see Babs doing work again.
- Huge kudos to Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones, who each picked Russell Wilson. Allen’s been battling the idea that he’s the weakest member of this secondary more or less all season and has been more than solid for the second consecutive season, while Jones burnished an already strong Defensive Rookie of the Year case with his performance yesterday.
- This win was a testament to everyone’s work ethics and improvement, frankly. This was the same team that lost by two on the road to the Seahawks earlier this season, yet it was virtually unrecognizable thanks to the improvements on offense and defense. Some of that obviously due to being at home and the Seahawks missing Earl Thomas, but not even close to all of it. This team is simply a good football team that seems to be getting better.
- Julio Jones is hurt. We all hope it was relatively minor and the team pulled him because they had a huge lead, but you have to wonder. The offense can fly without him, but Julio is a nightmare matchup for any time, and Atlanta would miss him if he couldn’t go in the Conference Championship.
- There were some bad plays. I dunno, man. I’m deliriously happy, what do you want from me?
So many choices, but I’ll give it to Ryan despite a handful of mistakes. He was just cool, collected, productive, and generous in spreading around his targets, and that was a huge part of the reason the Falcons scored 36 points.
You cannot stop the Falcons. You can only hope your offense is up to the task of matching their output.
We don’t know yet, but we will be watching tomorrow’s Packers-Cowboys game with real interest.