That’s the way to enter the playoffs. Many fans are going to have a small panic attack about the 19 points surrendered in the fourth quarter, but keeping the Saints offense at bay was never going to happen for four quarters. The reality is the Saints offense was as good as any that we’ll face in the playoffs, with the possible exception of the red hot Packers. The Falcons finished winning four straight games and 5 of their last six, all while scoring a minimum of 28 points in each of those games. If any Falcons team has ever been poised for a significant playoff run, it’s this one. The long-time Falcons fan in me says to slow down, but this team gives me a hope I haven’t had for them in the past. Playoffs, here we come.
Four years never felt so recent but so long ago. The team that was frustratingly to the Super Bowl is gone. A quick glance at the roster suggests only a few holdovers, like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Matt Bosher, Jonathan Babineaux, and Keith Armstrong. Those Falcons stumbled into the playoffs going .500 in their last four games. This is not that team. Dan Quinn has changed the mentality in Atlanta, and the Falcons never looked beat. They never looked like they gave up. They dominated their competition, and Matt Ryan didn’t throw an interception after his pick two on December 4th. This may be the most prepared I’ve seen this team head into the playoffs, and I’m excited about how they finished their season.
Count me among those who were disappointed that the team went into clock kill mode for the entire fourth quarter rather than letting Matt Ryan hit the 5000 yard mark. He might well have had it had the team not gone quite so conservative. The Falcons had two possessions in that quarter. The first one featured four straight runs before a short pass attempt (which was defended). The other featured two runs followed by a pass in the backfield that actually lost yardage.
Hopefully the coaching staff learned a lesson from the fourth quarter, as the Saints came within that final onsides kick of potentially stealing a win. Those of us who remember 1980 are still haunted by the way that team - arguably our best ever - went too conservative in the second half and flushed a magical season down the drain. Let’s not do that again.
This historic offense didn’t let up against New Orleans. Producing over 300 yards and five touchdowns in the first half showcased their dominance. It wasn’t surprising to see Matt Ryan have another productive game. What deserves more recognition is the play from both lines. They struggled against Carolina, which wasn’t expected. Jake Matthews looked like a liability at times. The pass rush was mostly limited against a mediocre Panthers’ offensive line. Both units responded greatly. Ryan was barley hit, while the pass rush harassed Drew Brees more than usual. With a potential rematch against Seattle looming, they will need to win inside the trenches.
Well, it happened. My mid-season prediction came true: the Falcons finished 11-5. They flipped the script on last season, going from a 1-5 divisional record to 5-1 in 2016. Atlanta finished that off with a dominating victory over the rival Saints that wasn’t as close as it appeared at the end of the game. You couldn’t ask for a better performance from the offense, who scored TDs on their first five drives. Matt Ryan cemented his status as the front-runner for NFL MVP with an excellent game. This team is getting hot at the perfect time, and should have a chance to get healthy and clean up some issues during their first-round bye. I’m shocked at the way this season unfolded, but couldn’t be happier to see this team among the class of the NFC in Quinn’s second season.
The Atlanta Falcons finished with a winning season, a playoff bye, and one of the most dynamic offenses in NFL history. The fact that the Saints rallied furiously in a dead second half will be less than a footnote when we look back at this year ten, five, or even two years from now, because this is one of the best Falcons teams we’ve ever seen, regardless of what happens from here on out. I’m just glad I got to see it happen, and I’m glad for this one, final regular season win over the Saints.