The defense that has bailed out the Seattle Seahawks so many times over the past five years couldn’t save them here Saturday.
Not against the speed of the Atlanta Falcons, whose deep arsenal around NFL MVP candidate Matt Ryan put on a show in a 36-20 triumph that thrust this dynamic young team into the NFC championship game.
“It feels good,” Ryan said. “We executed well across the board.”
Depending on the outcome of Sunday’s other divisional playoff, the Falcons will either go on the road next week to face the Dallas Cowboys or host the Green Bay Packers, with a spot in Super Bowl LI on the line.
The Falcons hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2012 season, when they beat Seattle here in another divisional-round game and lost the title game the next week. Since, the Seahawks have been a powerhouse – winning a Super Bowl, going to another and reaching the divisional round again last season – while the Falcons bottomed out, changed coaches and rebooted.
Atlanta’s 11-5 record and NFL-high 540 points in its second season under coach Dan Quinn (a former Seattle assistant) and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan were no fluke, though. The Falcons also played the Seahawks tough the first time they met, in a 26-24 loss Oct. 16 at Seattle.
On Saturday, the Falcons had mounted touchdown drives of 75, 99 and 75 yards by early in the third quarter. They netted over 400 yards. Ryan was 26-of-37 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Eight players caught passes, including Julio Jones, who had six catches for 67 yards and drew a holding penalty with Seahawks star Richard Sherman covering him extensively before leaving with a foot injury that will bear monitoring this week.
Atlanta’s defense did its part, too, using its speed and quickness off the edges to expose Seattle’s young tackles. Cornerback Brian Poole laid a memorable hit on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Ricardo Allen intercepted a desperation heave by Wilson in the fourth quarter and rookie linebacker Deion Jones got another pick late on a ball ripped from Luke Willson’s hands.
Now the Falcons are one win away for their first Super Bowl trip since the 1998 season. On Saturday, they sure looked like they belong here.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero
SOURCE: Tom Pelissero
USA TODAY Sports