By Shawn Lealos
The Atlanta Falcons welcomed the hottest team in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers, into their home stadium on Sunday. The Packers had won eight straight behind Aaron Rodgers, including a victory over the No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys last weekend. However, Atlanta had little problems with the Pack blowing them out 44-21. Here is a look at the huge win that will send the Atlanta Falcons to their second Super Bowl in team history.
The Atlanta Falcons had the second-best offense in the NFL in 2016 behind only the Green Bay Packers. However, few envisioned them having their way with a Green Bay Packers team that had already limited the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants in the playoffs, not to mention one that stopped the fast-scoring Detroit Lions to make the postseason. Matt Ryan continued his MVP season by throwing for 329 yards and four touchdowns. There are other candidates, but Ryan is proving that he has reached his full potential.
Julio Jones is a special talent and proved it in the playoffs this season. In this game, Jones caught nine balls for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a huge 73-yard touchdown and run that included jukes and a stiff forearm, all from a wide receiver who is suffering from a toe injury.
However, what makes this year's Falcons so dangerous is the multiple offensive weapons to spread the ball around to. Devonta Freeman and Tavin Coleman combined for only 71 rushing yards, but Coleman ran for a touchdown and Freeman proved his worth with four receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown through the air. Matt Ryan even ran for 23 yards and a touchdown. Add in Mohamed Sanu's five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown, and this was a full-team effort.
When seeing that the Green Bay Packers scored 21 points and Aaron Rodgers threw for 287 yards and all three touchdowns, one might wonder about the defense. However, those three touchdowns came in the second half and not many teams can stop Aaron Rodgers, one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time. The Falcons defense shut out the Packers in the first half and were up 31-0 before Green Bay scored their first points of the game.
Ricardo Allen intercepted Aaron Rodgers once in the game and Jalen Collins recovered an Aaron Ripkowski fumble while their offense didn't commit a single turnover. They limited the Packers to only 99 total rushing yards, and 46 of those came from Aaron Rodgers himself. This was as dominating a performance by the Falcons defense that the fans have seen all year.
Special Teams: B+
Atlanta only had to try for one field goal, which Matt Bryant made, and only punted the ball twice, with Matt Bosher putting both of them inside the 20. Bryant also kept the Packers' kick return game from doing anything, only allowing one return all game. The Falcons return team was average, but they didn't make any mistakes. Points do have to be taken away for a missed extra point by Bryant.
This game was supposed to be a hard-fought contest, similar to how the Packers-Cowboys game ended. However, Atlanta has now outscored their playoff opponents by a combined score of 80-41 and neither the Seattle Seahawks nor Green Bay Packers stood a chance. Matt Ryan is clearly the NFL MVP this year, and the Falcons coaches are leaning on him hard. However, they are also playing amazing defense and spreading the ball around with great play calling.
The Atlanta Falcons will need all that and more as they gear up to play the New England Patriots and Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Brady has been to more Super Bowls than any quarterback in NFL history. Bill Belichick has been to more Super Bowls than any coach in NFL history. In contrast, this is the Falcons' second-ever appearance at the big dance, and they didn't win their last Super Bowl game. But if any team can beat New England, it is Atlanta—this could end up as one of the more exciting Super Bowl match-ups in years.
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