By Shawn Lealos
The Atlanta Falcons needed to win in their regular season finale in order to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs. If Atlanta had lost this game, the Seattle Seahawks would have received the first round bye. That made this game important to win, and despite jumping out to a huge 38-13 lead, they almost blew it and lost. However, the Falcons held on for the win, 38-32, and will get a bye next week before starting their playoffs in the second round.
Matt Ryan is still one of the top contenders for the NFL MVP this season and strengthened his case with a big win in the team’s regular-season finale. To secure the team’s first round bye, Ryan threw for 331 yards and four touchdowns, although he didn’t do anything in the fourth quarter when the team needed to hold their lead. Ryan completed passes to eight different receivers, with Julio Jones leading the way with seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Other touchdown passes went to Justin Hardy, Mohamed Sanu and running back Tevin Coleman. The running back tandem of Coleman and Devonta Freeman were also on fire, combining to run for 140 yards on 20 carries with Freeman adding another touchdown on the ground. This offense was perfect and is what will help the Falcons succeed in the postseason.
The Atlanta Falcons defense did a solid job through most of the game, limiting Drew Brees and the powerful New Orleans Saints offense to 13 points in the first three quarters. However, Brees and the Saints exploded after that and scored 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and almost brought the Saints back to win the game. The Falcons defense gave up 350 passing yards to Brees and 103 rushing yards to Mark Ingram. They also gave up a rushing touchdown to Tim Hightower in the first quarter.
The Falcons defense only sacked Brees once in the game while just hitting him four times. Jalen Collins did intercept on Brees pass, but outside of that play, this defense did little to hold the lead late in the game. If the Falcons defense plays like this against a team like the Seattle Seahawks or Green Bay Packers in the playoffs, their postseason could end after one game.
Special Teams: A
Mohamed Sanu recovered an onside kick with 30 seconds remaining to stop the Saints from a chance for the winning touchdown. In the kicking game, Matt Bryant hit his only field goal attempt and all five extra points while Matt Bosher was only asked to punt four times, putting just one inside the 20.
The Atlanta Falcons finished the season with four straight wins, although they were all against teams with losing records. Despite that, the Falcons averaged 38.5 points in each of those four games and have broken 30 points in eight of their last 10 games. The Falcons will score a lot of points but they have to get their defense playing consistently if they want to succeed in the postseason.
Up next, the Atlanta Falcons get a week off thanks to their first-round playoff bye. They are the second ranked team in the NFC, so they will play the Wild Card round winner with the best record, which at the moment is either the Seattle Seahawks or the winner of the Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions game.