Atlanta remains one of the four NFL teams still in the mix for a Super Bowl, thanks to a 36-20 victory against Seattle in the NFC Divisional Round.
It was a typical Falcons victory. The offense continued to prove that it has no defensive equal, and the defense turned in a performance that inspired confidence in this young core.
Matt Ryan was as good as he’s been all season long, throwing for 338 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 204 yards and two touchdowns, and both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu reached the end zone as well.
The offense never flinched, even when Seattle began the game with a lengthy drive down the field to take an easy 7-0 lead. The Falcons responded with an equally-impressive drive and took over from there.
One game separates Atlanta from its second trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history, and that game will be the last one ever played in the Georgia Dome. Let’s send it out in style and bring the house down against the Green Bay Packers.
One reason to celebrate
Matt Ryan: Strong consideration went to the defense in this spot. After Seattle’s opening drive, the defense settled in and looked more like the unit we’ve seen improving on a weekly basis since the bye week. Keanu Neal flew around the field and led the team with 11 tackles, and the pass rush harried Russell Wilson all game long.
Despite the inspired defensive performance, the biggest reason to celebrate after Saturday came courtesy of the NFL’s MVP.
I’ve never bought into the notion that Ryan wasn’t capable of leading the Falcons to a Super Bowl victory. He has been a very good player for most of his career, but on Saturday Ryan took the next step.
Although Seattle’s defense isn’t at the level it was just two years ago, it likely wouldn’t have mattered which defense Ryan was facing. He was fearless in the face of pressure, decisive in his throws and dauntless on the big stage.
While Ryan’s performance on the field was sublime, he had an off-field moment that was as important as any other.
As Seattle began to melt down and sought to drag Atlanta down to its level, Ryan gathered the offense around him to keep everyone focused on what truly mattered. Ryan is not only reaching his potential on the field, but he’s become a true leader determined to take this team all the way.
Aaron Rodgers is coming to town, and no defense has been able to slow him down over the past eight weeks. There’s a very good chance that Rodgers will have success against the Falcons defense, which means the pressure will once again be on Ryan and the offense.
I’ll take our guy.
One reason to worry
Special teams: Devin Hester looked like a man bent one single-handedly sending the Falcons home early, but Atlanta’s special teams didn’t do much to stop him.
It’s actually a wonder that Hester didn’t score a touchdown on Saturday, given just how many opportunities he had to reach full speed in the open field. It’s true that the future Hall-of-Famer is the best to ever return kicks, but that’s really no excuse for the Falcons’ performance in that aspect of the game.
With as good as Rodgers and the Packers are on offense, it is absolutely critical that the special teams have a much better game. A quick touchdown in the return game or a swing in field position could end up making the difference in what should be a close contest.
Green Bay doesn’t have a true game-changer in the return game, but the Falcons can’t afford to have a repeat performance in kick coverage.
Eric Weems also had a notable gaffe late in the second quarter, opting not to fair catch a punt and allowing it to be downed by Seattle at the 1-yard line. I enjoy 99-yard touchdown drives as much as the next Falcons fan, but I’d rather not see one next weekend.