It’s not too late to pour a few accolades and honors on the Atlanta Falcons this morning. After all, they just won in the divisional round of the playoffs, something that hasn’t happened in the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era. This is a big deal. And it’s time to handout wings to the players who had the biggest part in the victory:
QB Matt Ryan: Ryan didn’t have the greatest of days. He’s had many better days both this season and in previous seasons. But that being said he had a very solid day. 24 of 35 for 250 yards, and three touchdowns. Yes, Ryan had one interception early where he and his receivers weren’t on the same page. He also had a really bad one where he tried to force a deep throw to Roddy White that was intercepted by Earl Thomas. That interception nearly cost the Falcons the game. But the three TD passes were huge, and when you add in the fact that he led a 4th quarter comeback and a game-winning drive in the postseason (his 22nd in his career) he had a magnificent day. A passer rating of 93.8 isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really matter since Ryan won the game, and got the ‘postseason choker’ moniker off his back.
WR Roddy White: White was very good on a day when he was matched up mostly with Richard Sherman, the All-Pro cornerback. He didn’t always beat Sherman, but when he did he always moved the chains. He always found a good way to set up Sherman, and allowing him to break sharply and get open on his routes. He also hauled in a huge, critical 47-yard TD catch in the second quarter. His 5 catches for 76 yards isn’t a massive number, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Atlanta Falcons.
TE Tony Gonzalez: Tony Gonzalez hadn’t won a playoff game in his previous 15 seasons in the NFL. For a surefire Hall of Famer, that’s just unbelievable. On Sunday, Gonzalez had 6 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Not magnificent stats, but he was critical in moving the chains, and he made a monumentally difficult touchdown catch. It was also tremendous that the final Falcons reception of the game, the 19-yarder that set up the game-winning field goal, was made by Gonzalez. Finally, Tony has his first postseason victory, and he may just get a little more than that.
LB Sean Weatherspoon/FS Thomas DeCoud: I’m not sure who deserves this more, so I made a joint group. Weatherspoon had a huge forced fumble, something that was critical to giving the Falcons points, as well as preventing Seattle from scoring. However, he spent most of the day chasing Russell Wilson, mostly fruitlessly. The other guy was Thomas DeCoud. He didn’t have many huge plays, and didn’t create a turnover. But he covered a deep post by Sidney Rice, a play that could have absolutely broken the back of the Falcons, but he knocked it to the turf harmlessly. Great play by a guy who deserves to have been named to the Pro-Bowl.
K Matt Bryant: ‘I think we have two Matty Ices. We have Matty Ice Ryan, and Matty Ice Bryant’. Those were the words of head coach Mike Smith after the game, and those words have never been more true. Bryant has been a very good kicker in his time in Atlanta, and I have complete confidence in him, much like the Falcons must. From where I was sitting, I thought Bryant made the first field goal, but then realized Pete Carroll called the timeout. It worked out beautifully as Bryant actually pushed it just wide right, and Carroll bailed him out magnificently. Bryant then proceeded to drill the kick that counted. The kick was true, with plenty of distance, and with eight seconds left, the Falcons took the lead, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.