As Matt Ryan hit Mohammed Sanu on the corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter the chanting became deafening at the Georgia Dome. As during their win two weeks earlier over New Orleans the full house chanted “MVP!” over and over again. Ad no, they didn’t need to pipe it in as they were accused of doing a few seasons back. Ryan capped off a MVP-clinching performance defeating the Seattle Seahawks Saturday 36-20 and await the winners of the Cowboys and Packers to see who they will play for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Ryan was 26-of-37 for 338 yards and three touchdowns that put not doubt in who should be the league’s MVP.
But one play completely changed the complexion of the game changing momentum to lead the Falcons to a relatively easy win. Devin Hester played havoc on his former team returning kicks for 194 yards for the Seahawks. With Seattle leading 10-7 in the second quarter the Falcons punted to Hester who returned the kick 80 yards to the Falcon 7-yard line. But something yellow appeared on the field – a flag. The return was nullified and the Seahawks took over on their 7. On the next play from scrimmage Thomas Rawls was thrown for a four-yard loss. Facing a second down in the shadows of their goal posts Russell Wilson tripped over a lineman after taking the snap and fell into the end zone and Ben Garland landed on top of him before he could get back on his feet for a safety.
From that point forward the Seahawks only managed two field goals the rest of the game until a late touchdown when the game was already out of hand. And while Ryan had yet another MVP performance to add to what may end up being a magical season for the QB and the team the real MVP may have been the defense for the Falcons.
The Atlanta defense has been maligned and deservedly so for years. As 2016 progressed it became very apparent that the defense was beginning to gel. Saturday the defense kept Wilson on the run the entire game sacking him three times, intercepting him twice. Known for their solid running game the Falcons held the Seahawks to under 100 yards rushing with leading rusher Rawls being held to 34 yards. They also took tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Doug Baldwin out of the game although did get two long completions late in the game – a 40 yard completion to Paul Richard that set up a 31 yard touchdown pass to Baldwin with 3:21 remaining when the outcome had already been decided.
Seattle looked to set the pace initially taking the opening kickoff and taking 8:34 to take an early 7-0 lead on a seven yard scoring play to Graham. Atlanta answered with a time consuming drive of their own (for them) as they scored on the first play of the second quarter on a seven-yard strike to Julio Jones over middle to tie the score.
Atlanta’s defense and special teams seemed to be back on their heels most of the first half until Hester’s punt return was called back and then the defense kicked into overdrive overwhelming the NFC West champs, bullying their way to victory.
After the safety the Falcons scored 17 unanswered points with Matt Bryant putting them up for good at the 6:06 mark of the second quarter with a 35 yard field goal to make the score 12-10. Ryan finished off the half with a 14 yard strike to Tevin Coleman with 53 seconds remaining to make the score 19-10 at half. And unlike other games there was no letdown by the Falcons in the second half.
Taking the second half kickoff the Falcons marched the length of the field to extend their lead on a Devonta Freeman one-yard plunge. Atlanta’s one-two punch out of the backfield once again proved effective as the dynamic duo of Freeman and Coleman accounted for 202 yards receiving and running. Ryan hit eight different receivers over the course of the game with Freeman and Taylor Gabriel doing the biggest damage with long catch and runs of 53and 37 yards respectively.
With the win the Falcons perhaps close out their history at the Georgia Dome, which will close at the end of the NFL season. There is a chance of one final game if the Green Bay Packers defeat top seed Dallas Sunday afternoon. The Falcons are the last team to defeat the Packers this season when they downed them 33-32 in October.
– Dave Weinthal
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