Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks to throw against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter of the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
What a ballgame. What an incredible game. What a great day to be an Atlanta Falcon.
The Seattle Seahawks looked very good all season long. While staring a rookie quarterback all season, they pounded the rock, played tremendous defense, and obliterated teams. On paper, Seattle looked to be a horrible mismatch for the Falcons. They run the ball well, something the Falcons don’t defend very well. They have very big players in the secondary, perfectly countering the Falcons’ strength.
Well, for the first half at least, the Falcons looked dominant. The run game was working. Running the football in Atlanta in the 2012 season? What a novel idea. It worked very well in critical spots. It also helped that Michael Turner busted off a 33 yard run, and Jacquizz Rodgers had a big run of his own. But without the run game, there would have been no room for the Falcons to throw the ball.
And throw the ball they certainly did. Matt Ryan threw an early interception, and he also threw a bad interception in the second half. But he was 24 of 35 on the day, for 250 yards and three touchdowns. And nearly every one of those completions was critical. The Falcons converted 54% of their third down opportunities, thanks in large part to Matt Ryan and the receiving corps. Ryan had the two interceptions, but without his really outstanding play, there’s no way the Falcons would have won.
The Atlanta Falcons defense was also stout in the first half. They looked something like a sieve in the second half, even allowing them to take the lead, but with the shutout they pitched in the first half, it really helped keep the pressure off the Falcons. Like I said before, Seattle made their bones by running the heck out of the ball, play-action passing off that, and running the read option. Marshawn ‘BeatsMode’ Lynch didn’t go anywhere, toting the rock 16 times for only 46 yards. The Falcons defense did a great job penetrating the backfield, and getting bodies on Lynch before he could get a head of steam going.
The Falcons couldn’t generate any pass-rush on Wilson for most of the day, and that was a major component on their second half near-demise. They could stuff the run, and box Wilson into the pocket, but when it came to actually sacking Wilson, they just couldn’t do it. That allowed the Seattle receivers to get open, and with Wilson’s mobility, it isn’t hard to see how he could be successful throwing the ball on the Falcons. Luckily, it didn’t result in their undoing, and since they were so good at preventing scoring in the first half, they had a great cushion. They still almost blew it.
Congrats to Matt Ryan, Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, and especially Tony Gonzalez. None of them had ever won a playoff game, and Gonzalez had never won a playoff game in his Hall of Fame career. It’s about time. And on one of the biggest stages the Falcons have ever been on, Ryan and Gonzalez played very well. It wasn’t the best game of his career, but he had a good game in the biggest game of his career. The same goes for Gonzalez. He’s had better games than 6 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. But each of his catches came in huge situations, and he showed a special desire to make plays. He just wanted it more than anyone I’ve ever seen, and he willed himself to make catches in those situations.
Winning one playoff game isn’t everything, that much is clear. The Falcons must host the NFC Championship game next week against the San Francisco 49ers. But for a team with a monumental amount of pressure on them to not be one-and-done in the postseason, this victory was a colossal one. Even if they don’t advance any further, it got the post-season boogieman out of the Falcons minds and the one-and-done monkey off their backs. They can go forward, both this post-season and next year, with confidence that they can emerge victorious in the biggest of games. And they can ride their franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan, to victory in those games.