Last offseason, I wrote a series of Throwback Thursday articles looking back at some of the most memorable moments in Atlanta Falcons history. That series culminated with an article looking back at the time newly minted general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall pick. Here’s how that specific article concluded:
As you may or may not have noticed, there wasn’t a single one of these articles which was dedicated to any moment in the Matt Ryan era; that was by design. In this upcoming offseason, I hope to write a series of “Matty Ice Moments” articles, which look back on nothing but moments in the Matt Ryan era.
Well, that time has come — welcome to the “Matty Ice Moments” series. This will be a series of articles dedicated to looking back on Matt Ryan-centric moments, in an attempt to help distract us from the dead period a little bit.
And if you don’t like Matt Ryan and think that we’re focusing on him too much this offseason, then that’s just too bad, I guess.
You can find last week’s article in this series, looking back on Ryan winning his first ever division title, here.
2010 Divisional Round vs. Green Bay Packers
Well, I did say earlier that not all of these moments will be pleasant to look back on. This game against the Packers was one of the most shocking and painful moments in Falcons history up to that point (I wish I could tell you that it didn’t get much worse for this franchise after 2010, but then I’d be flat out lying).
The Falcons looked poised to make a deep playoff run as the calendar turned to January of 2011 — they had just blitzed the NFC en route to a 13-3 record and had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Pro Bowl backfield tandem of Matt Ryan and Michael Turner could seemingly do no wrong.
Turner bounced back from an injury-filled 2009 season to lead the league in carries with 334, parlaying that massive workload into 1,371 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Ryan had taken that next step in his career, which is expected of a third-year quarterback. He threw for 3,705 passing yards and an impressive TD/INT ratio of 28/9. He also had the clutch gene in spades, as evidenced by his league-leading six game winning drives and five fourth quarter comebacks.
However, the fact that the Falcons were behind in the fourth quarter in literally half of their games during the regular season wasn’t very promising. As a result of all the success which the 2010 Falcons enjoyed, many fans opted to ignore the glaring weaknesses on this roster. I was among those fans who had the blinders of 13 wins on.
Come playoff time, those great weaknesses which plague a team are honed in on and exposed, often in brutal fashion.
The Green Bay Packers had barely made it into the playoffs. They finished with the same record as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 10-6, but owned the tiebreaker to get into that second Wild Card spot (Tampa still hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007).
In the Wild Card Round, Green Bay pulled off a shocking upset victory at Philadelphia, against resurgent Pro Bowl QB Michael Vick and the NFC East-winning Eagles. Rodgers was on point, throwing for 180 passing yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. It was James Starks’ breakout performance of 123 rushing yards on 23 carries which really threw the Eagles off, however.
Thanks to their incredible record, the Falcons, meanwhile, had a bye week through the Wild Card Round and advanced directly to the Divisional Round for the first time since 2004. The Packers looked like they were going to be a speed bump on Atlanta’s run to the Super Bowl.
The Georgia Dome was incredibly loud on that January night. It got even louder after the defense forced a three-and-out on Green Bay’s first possession of the game and the offense went on a seven-play drive which culminated in a 12-yard Michael Turner touchdown run. You couldn’t have dialed up a more ideal start.
Green Bay answered back immediately with a 14-play touchdown drive, in which there wasn’t a single play which went for negative or no yardage. But that was immediately forgotten about after Eric Weems returned the subsequent kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown to restore Atlanta’s seven-point lead.
That would be the very peak of this game for the Falcons, as it all went downhill from there. Rodgers led the Packers on methodical touchdown scoring drives the next two times he saw the ball (I should note that he was aided by an idiotic Christopher Owens illegal contact penalty on a third down sack on that first drive), with a Matt Ryan interception in Field Goal range sandwiched in between. Michael Jenkins had a step and looked like he was about to score a touchdown on that play, but slipped at the last second as Tramon Williams recovered and picked it off.
The Falcons had taken Green Bay’s best punch and were on the matt, but Ryan and the offense tried to respond. Down 21-14, Atlanta was on the move and had again made its way into Field Goal range, with just 10 seconds remaining in the half.
To kick a field goal and regroup during the break down by four wouldn’t have been a death sentence. Matt Ryan throwing one of the worst interceptions of his career, on a sprint-out pass intended for White to try and make it an easier FG attempt, and that interception getting returned for a touchdown by Tramon Williams as the half expired was a death sentence, however.
The Packers scored 28 points in the second quarter, and took a 28-14 lead into the half. Each team possessed the ball for two drives each in that second quarter following Weems’ kick return score — Green Bay scored touchdowns on both of their drives, Atlanta threw interceptions on both of their’s.
Rodgers continued dissecting the exposed Falcons defense in the second half, scoring touchdowns on each of his first two drives of the third quarter. The score was 42-14 before anyone could blink.
Rodgers managed to move around in the pocket in the rare instances when Atlanta got pressure on him (nobody outside of John Abraham on this team had more than four sacks in 2010), and he exploited Atlanta’s unit of small and inferior corners seemingly whenever he felt like it. Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson, and Christopher Owens were lost all evening.
On offense, it had become painfully clear that Roddy White was the team’s only real threat at the wide receiver position. That had actually become clear throughout the course of the regular season, with no other WR totaling more than 505 receiving yards during the campaign.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, Atlanta would make one of the boldest moves in team history, trading a treasure chest of draft picks to move up 21 spots in order to select Alabama WR Julio Jones to pair with White. The results of the 2010 season and this playoff game were the reason why Thomas Dimitroff pulled the trigger on that draft day move.
Green Bay ended up winning 48-21, flipping the script and eventually showing us all that it was in fact the Falcons who were the speed bump on their own Super Bowl run.
Matt Ryan finished the game with 186 passing yards, one touchdown, two interceptions (one returned for a score), a lost fumble, and a passer rating of 69.0 (not super nice). His career postseason record fell to 0-2, and for years to come he would have to fight the narrative that he was someone who couldn’t get it done in the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers was sublime — 31-36 for 366 passing yards, four total touchdowns (one rushing), no turnovers, and a passer rating of 136.8.
It was back to the drawing board for Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The franchise’s greatest regular season since 1998 just felt so hallow following the beating they had just endured.
Ryan would eventually get his revenge against Rodgers and the Packers in the playoffs, but we’ll get to that at a later date.