NFL & Atlanta Falcons

Falcons’ defense serves as driving force to victory

Atlanta’s Tyson Jackson sacks Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday during the NFC championship game.
Atlanta’s Tyson Jackson sacks Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday during the NFC championship game. AP

A lot of the talk revolved around the two high-powered offenses heading into Sunday’s NFC championship game, but that was not the focal point of the conversation after the game.

The Falcons had their high-powered offense on display, rolling up 493 yards. But it was Atlanta’s defensive success that led the team to a 44-21 victory over Green Bay and a trip to Houston for the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers was the focus for the Falcons after he threw for 40 touchdowns and only seven interceptions during the regular season. On Sunday, he was pressured and limited in the first half, which was evident by Atlanta’s 24-0 lead entering the locker room. The MVP candidate finished with 287 yards and three touchdowns, but most of his success came late when the game was decided as Atlanta had a successful day limiting the Packers’ attack.

“When you face a quarterback that’s as good and as talented as Aaron, you better find ways to get him off of his spot,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “He’s been just as dangerous in the pocket as he has been out, so the defensive coaches worked hard. The players had a clear picture of our game plan, and they had a good week of preparation.”

The defensive performance was highlighted by an interception by safety Ricardo Allen and a forced fumble by cornerback Jalen Collins. The secondary provided the main contributions defensively after a performance in the previous round that didn’t satisfy the defense.

The Falcons handled Seattle in the divisional round, only allowing 20 points. But on the Seahawks’ first drive, they were able to run off more than nine minutes of clock and score. Allen said the early offensive success in the week prior made him upset and drove him to limit the Packers’ production and get his own offense on the field.

The past two playoff performances by Atlanta’s defense have displayed growth by the group that is filled with rookies and second-year players. Early in the season, the struggles were evident and the Falcons ranked near the bottom in many statistical categories. But that’s no longer true, and rookie safety Keanu Neal sees more improvement to come.

“We’ve made a huge jump, and it’s crazy to say that we aren’t the best mold of ourselves yet,” Neal said. “There’s still so much we can do, and we’re still believing in that.”

The defense was also driven by the talk of the two highly powered offenses, as a shootout was expected by many.

“It’s a little disrespectful to us,” Neal said. “What we do on the field, it shows that we can be physical and that our brotherhood is strong. We can play defense.”

The Falcons will head to Houston for their second Super Bowl appearance and the first under the ownership of Arthur Blank.

“It’s amazing and a dream come true (to play in the Super Bowl),” Allen said. “It’s everything we’ve worked for, and Coach Quinn has made sure that we follow the process and never look back. We called every week a championship week, and these games don’t get too big for us when they all feel the same.”