By Matthew Asher
It may not have been pretty, it may not have been according to plan, but for the first time since Mike Smith took over as the coach, the Atlanta Falcons have won a playoff game. It was a tale of two halves with Atlanta dominating the beginning of the game and then allowing Seattle to mount a comeback. One thing’s for sure, if the NFC Championship is anything like this Divisional game, fans are in for another instant classic.
Atlanta during the first half gets an A. Looking bad at the first half, it’s tough to find anything wrong with how the Falcons played. Other than having to settle for two field goals rather than four total touchdowns, Atlanta’s offense was in sync from the start. Both running backs Michael Turner and Jaquizz Rodgers ran the ball well. Turner had 66 yards on nine carries while Rodgers picked up 61 yards on six attempts. For Turner, this was not one large run followed by lots of single yardage plays, he picked up a handful of yards nearly every run.
Matt Ryan completed 12 of his 18 pass attempts for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw one interception in the first half, but Atlanta’s defense was able to cause a turnover of their own just three plays later. Besides forcing Marshawn Lynch to fumble the ball, the Falcons defense could do no wrong in the first half. They pitched a shutout and limited Lynch (who averages almost 100 yards a game) to just 27 rushing yards on eight carries. Russel Wilson did complete 10 of his 17 attempts for 144 yards but the defense did a good job of forcing Russell out of his comfort zone.
Seattle had the ball five times in the first half and was unable to score any points. They were forced to punt twice, fumbled once and were unable to convert a 4th and 1 in the Falcons red zone. Fans may point out that Seattle had the ball as time expired in the first half and it appears they were able to snap the ball when the referees ruled the ball dead. Just so you know, three separate Seahawks were still technically in motion when Wilson got the snap with 1 second remaining. Even if the refs allowed the play to continue, Seattle would have been docked 10 seconds for their penalty and the half would have been over anyway.
Kicker Matt Bryant gets an A+. Bryant was responsible for 12 of Atlanta’s 30 points. He made all seven kicks including the game-winning 49-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining in the game. Fans may want to consider nicknaming the kicker “Matty Ice” rather than the quarterback.
Atlanta in the fourth quarter gets a D. Atlanta only had the ball once in the third quarter. They were able to produce a 14-play, seven-plus minute, 80-yard drive which resulted in a touchdown. In the fourth quarter Atlanta had the ball four times. Taking the final drive out, the Falcons ran just 11 plays, gained 27 yards and held the ball for less than six minutes while the Seahawks were able to pick up nearly 300 yards of offense in the second half.
Matt Ryan gets a C-. Fortunately for the Falcons, they won the game. Otherwise Ryan would have been the goat. As great as the first half was for Ryan, he nearly fell apart in the second half. Ryan only picked up 115 passing yards in the second half with 41 of those yards coming in Atlanta’s final drive. For the third time in four playoff games, Ryan threw multiple interceptions. The first one ended up not mattering since the Falcons took the ball back three player later. But Ryan’s second interception was converted into a Seattle touchdown to cut the lead to 27-21.
Now the NFC Championship game is set: the San Francisco 49ers will come to the Georgia Dome next week for a 3pm EST kickoff.
Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.