The offense carried Atlanta to yet another victory, and the Falcons are championship bound.
It looked somewhat bleak early on as Seattle found early success in its run game and scored a touchdown on the first possession. But Atlanta's offense continues to be a juggernaut as it answered the Seahawks’ early score and continued piling on points en route to a 36-20 Falcons victory over their NFC foe.
Matt Ryan put his playoff record to the side and performed as he did throughout the regular season, finding a variety of receivers and re-confirming his MVP candidacy. The Falcons’ signal caller finished with 334 yards on an effective 25-36 passing. Not only did Ryan find his playmakers on the perimeter, but the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman got in on the receiving action as well.
The offensive success allowed the defense to keep up its solid play, and the Seattle offense was stymied for more than two quarters before trying to make a significant comeback. While Wilson was efficient, the Seahawks offensive attack became one-dimensional and the running game couldn’t find continued success as Thomas Rawls averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.
A nearly perfect performance in every aspect of the game left more than 71,500 fans in the Georgia Dome impressed, and it turned out to be an impressive way to bid adieu to the stadium if Atlanta does not draw a home game for the NFC championship.
Four who mattered
Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones: Ryan’s primary target is his star receiver Jones, and he proved to be a useful weapon yet again in the early stages. Seattle’s star cornerback Richard Sherman had trouble defending Jones as he finished with 67 yards on six completions. Jones’ early success allowed the opportunity for Taylor Gabriel and other offensive role players to have similar offensive production.
Freeman/Coleman: The Ryan-Jones connection is a popular one for good reason, but the running back tandem of Freeman and Coleman provide the balance to Atlanta’s offense to make it well-rounded. The two showed that yet again on Saturday, with significant numbers in both rushing and receiving. Along with combining with 96 yards on the ground, the two running backs topped that number by combining for 102 receiving yards.
Atlanta defensive back Keanu Neal: The former first-round draftee Neal showed no playoff nerves despite being a rookie and led the Falcons defensively. He tied his career-high with 11 total tackles and was a significant asset on the defensive end in Atlanta’s victory.
Wilson: Seattle’s star quarterback did everything possible to keep his team in contention until the final minutes. While it didn’t result in victory, he created multiple problems for Atlanta’s defensive corps. Wilson totaled 225 passing yards, going 17-for-30. He also showed his dual-threat abilities, finishing as the team’s leading rusher with 49 yards.
In Atlanta’s only 3-and-out possession of the first half, former Falcons player Devin Hester returned the ensuing punt 80 yards to the Falcons’ 7. But it was rescinded due to a holding penalty on the Seahawks, which sent them back to their own 7. Due to Seattle playing deep in its own territory, the Falcons brought pressure and Wilson was brought down in the end zone after being stepped on by his own offensive lineman, Rees Odhiambo, thus resulting in a safety. Ben Garland — who usually plays on the offensive side — was credited with the sack and created a permanent change of momentum allowing Atlanta to cruise to victory.
Defense steps up once again: The Seattle offense had only averaged 15 points per game on the road this season, and the Falcons held their opponent to a similar number again. After striking quickly in the first quarter, a positive turnover margin and contributions from younger defensive players held the Seahawks to a low total.
Falcons suffer injuries: Entering the game, the Falcons had a clean bill of health as a result of a first-round bye. But some more attrition trickled in Saturday. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (bicep) and Jones (foot) did not return after leaving the game due to injury.
Seattle makes final run, falls short: Seattle made things somewhat interesting, with possession and a chance to trim it to eight points. But an interception by Deion Jones nullified that opportunity and the Falcons were able to run out the clock.
Ryan diversifies passing attack: The Falcons’ offensive success was attributed to Ryan mixing up his passing attack and distributing to different receivers. In addition to 67 yards from Jones, the Falcons also received similar production from Taylor Gabriel with 71 and Freeman with 80 yards.
Hester proves pesky in return to Atlanta: The Seahawks found a majority of their success in the special teams department, and the focal point of that success was Hester, who was cut from the Falcons’ roster prior to this season. On five returns, Hester totaled 194 yards and gave Seattle favorable field position on numerous occasions.
Dan Quinn collects first playoff win: As a franchise, the Falcons have only won seven playoff games in 19 attempts. When Atlanta hired Quinn from Seattle, the team was hopeful that some of the postseason fortune would be flipped, and Quinn is one step closer to doing so with a victory over his former team. Saturday’s convincing win is the first playoff win on Quinn’s resume, and he will look to be the second head coach in franchise history to collect multiple playoff wins in the NFC championship.
They said it
Neal on defensive performance: “I was in the right place at the right time, and I was just playing for my brothers. We were all doing that.”
Quinn on team’s win: “This game was won during the week. The preparation these guys put in, I wish you all could’ve seen that. That type of effort to play against a really good team was totally at hand. We told the team it would be about the ball, and it was because we were at plus-two in turnover margin.”
Gabriel on offensive attack: “We have so many weapons, so you have to play us honest. You can’t just put a safety over Julio because we are so explosive that they’ll take advantage of the star and it’ll be costly.”
Atlanta awaits its opponent in the NFC championship as it will face the winner of Sunday’s game between Dallas and Green Bay. The game will take place at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 22.