Atlanta Falcons Clearly Dominated Divisional Playoff
Atlanta Falcon were the Better Team
The way the Falcons dismantled the battle-tested Seattle Seahawks last Saturday afternoon should raise eyebrows everywhere. It’s not just about the fact that Atlanta avenged their loss to the Seahawks in Seattle from earlier this season. It’s the way they moved the ball, seemingly at will, against the vaunted Seahawks defense all game long. It’s also not just about the fact that Atlanta’s defense harassed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson all game long, stymieing him in a way that we’re just not accustomed to seeing. It’s about the fact that, for 50 minutes or so of the 60-minute-long football game, the Falcons were clearly and definitively the better football team.
Fans of other NFL teams have now been put on notice: these are not your father’s or older brother’s Atlanta Falcons. The 2016-2017 version of this team doesn’t have any aspirations of being lumped in with their went-home-too-early predecessors.
It didn’t necessarily start out looking like that for Atlanta. After winning the coin toss and deferring to receive the ball in the second half, Atlanta gave Seattle the ball to start the game, and the Seahawks picked things up from where they left off last week against Detroit: with a 14-play, 89-yard drive that ended in a seven-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jimmy Graham. The drive essentially consumed two-thirds of the first quarter, with the Seahawks converting on three different third down opportunities.
The Atlanta Falcons did respond with a beautifully-executed 13-play, 75-yard drive of their own, ending in a seven-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. But two plays later, on Seattle’s ensuing possession, a potential big play seemed to change the entire outcome of the game. With the ball near midfield, Wilson connected on a deep pass to wide receiver Paul Richardson, who fell down around Atlanta’s 19 yard line, but got up seemingly untouched and ran the ball in for a touchdown. However, when the officials reviewed the play, Richardson was ruled as being down by contact at the 19 yard line, taking the touchdown off the board. Wilson was sacked on the next play, and Seattle had to settle for a field goal, taking a 10-7 lead.
Atlanta did go three-and-out on the next drive, but from that point on, the Falcons took over the game and never relinquished control. The Seahawks got the ball back on their own seven yard line, thanks to the Atlanta punt, and on second down, Wilson got his foot stepped on by his offensive lineman, falling down in the end zone and surrendering a Safety to the Falcons. That cut the lead to 10-9, and after Atlanta added a field goal right after getting the ball back after the Safety, they pushed the lead out to 12-10, and never trailed again.
After Seattle’s first three-and-out of the afternoon, Atlanta went right back to work, moving the ball 99 yards down the field on only nine plays, ending the drive with a 14 yard pass from Ryan to running back Tevin Coleman. Coming into the game, Seattle had only allowed one drive of 99 yards through the entire course of the 2016 season. To make matters worse, Atlanta — having deferred the football to start the game — got the ball back to start the second half, and put together another 75-yard drive that ended in a touchdown, coming on a one-yard plunge by running back Devonta Freeman. Less than six minutes into the third quarter, the Seahawks were now facing a 16-point deficit.
The Seattle Seahawks responded with an 80-yard drive that ended in a Steven Hauschka field goal, but Matt Bryant added another field goal on the very next drive, and then Ryan connected with Mohamed Sanu on a three-yard touchdown drive on Atlanta’s next possession, pushing the lead out to a lopsided 36-13 margin. Wilson’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin with 19 second left did manage the make the score a bit more respectable at 36-20, but from the second quarter onwards, the outcome of the game was never really in question.
With Green Bay upsetting the Dallas Cowboys, the Atlanta Falcons now have the opportunity to further shock the world, when they host the NFC Championship game next Sunday.
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