The offensive rocket has taken off, and the Atlanta Falcons are headed to Space City.
Atlanta’s offense was explosive and the defense was in control throughout Sunday as the Falcons beat Green Bay 44-21 in the NFC championship game to earn a spot in the Super Bowl in Houston.
The Falcons’ offense wasted no time getting off to yet another strong start with quarterback Matt Ryan and his playmakers finding immediate chemistry, and the defense was able to contain the red-hot Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Ryan connected with his abundance of wide receivers — including Julio Jones who looked to be 100 percent after a lingering to injury — and took advantage of Green Bay’s defensive backfield from start to finish. Rodgers finished with 287 yards and three touchdowns, also throwing a costly interception, but the Falcons’ defense kept him under control throughout the game.
The dominant performance by head coach Dan Quinn’s group gives Atlanta its second Super Bowl trip.
Four who mattered
Jones: The All-Pro wide receiver finished with 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Ryan: Ryan posted yet another solid performance with 392 yards and five total touchdowns (one rushing) while being efficient on 27-of-38 passing. The crowd chanted “MVP” in the final quarter, giving a vote of confidence to Atlanta’s quarterback.
Atlanta defensive back Ricardo Allen: The Falcons’ starting safety has displayed his ball-hawking abilities at the right time. Allen followed-up his interception in the divisional round by hauling in another key pick from Rodgers. In addition, Rodgers also collected five tackles and a pass deflection.
Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson: Nelson was sidelined in the divisional round with broken ribs and was listed as doubtful early in the week. But as the game came closer, Nelson saw increasing action in practice and gave it a try. Nelson finished with 67 yards and a touchdown.
Green Bay was on its way to answering Atlanta’s first score as Rodgers found Nelson twice for a total of 42 yards, and it looked like the Packers would put points on the board. But place-kicker Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal attempt, and Atlanta took full momentum early on.
Packers issues prior to arriving prove costly: A dominant performance may not have been foreseen, but a great deal of attrition and conflict within the Packers’ camp throughout the week translated to a poor game-day performance. The injury report was cluttered to begin the week, with Nelson, Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison and others listed as questionable for the game. A few days later, a virus began to spread throughout the locker room with Rodgers and Nelson reportedly having symptoms. Then to cap it off, the Packers experienced a flight delay and arrived in Atlanta much later than expected.
Falcons put clamps on opposing run game: It had been known that Green Bay was a pass-heavy offense, but it truly lacked the second dimension throughout action as the Packers found little success on the ground. In addition to a fumble, the Packers finished with only 78 rushing yards and Rodgers led the team in that statistic, finishing with 46 yards.
Injury-free heading to Houston: The Falcons will enter the bye week prior to the Super Bowl with little concern on the injury front. The only seen injury from Atlanta was from center Alex Mack, who returned on the next play.
Falcons win turnover battle: Quinn said entering Sunday’s action that this game would “be about the ball,” or rather the turnover margin. The Falcons answered that call with a forced fumble and a defensive interception. Atlanta was once again benefitted as no turnovers were given up on the offensive end.
Mohamed Sanu provides early spark: With the bulk of the Packers’ attention being on Jones, and rightfully so, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan decided to use him as a decoy and connect with Sanu in the first few drives. Sanu finished with 52 yards and a touchdown and also had 7 rushing yards on a direct snap.
Falcons win every statistical category: This win from Atlanta was shown on the stat sheet, in every team category. The Falcons topped their opponents in each area, anywhere from first downs to time of possession.
They said it
Quinn on the victory: “The brotherhood that these men have built in our locker room has built to this moment. It’s about how hard they want to play for one another and helping each other get ready. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Falcons owner Arthur Blank on significance of victory to city: “Our fans have been incredibly supportive, so I’m happy for all of us collectively. It’s a special moment for me, because I haven’t had this opportunity in my ownership. We’re blessed and look forward to playing in Houston.”
Ryan on using Sanu early: “For the play calls that Kyle had, the matchups we saw led Mohamed to be the guy early. He made some plays, and he’s done that for us all year. He brings a lot of energy and guys feed off of that, which was certainly the case Sunday.”
Atlanta will face the winner of Sunday’s AFC championship game between Pittsburgh and New England at 6 p.m. on Feb. 5 in the Super Bowl