Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) fumbles as San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith (99) recovers during the third quarter of the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
What an awful way to end the season. At least the Atlanta Falcons did better than at least 28 other teams in the NFL in the 2012 season. It’s no real consolation to this team, but I suppose it makes me feel a little better.
Atlanta started off extremely hot. At one point, they had a 17-0 lead over the Niners. It looked like the stage may be too big for rookie QB Colin Kaepernick, as the Falcons forced them to punt on their first two possessions, and they absolutely torched the Niners vaunted defense to the tune of 17 points.
On Atlanta’s first possession, Julio Jones found himself wide open against the San Francisco secondary, and Matt Ryan easily found him for the 46-yard touchdown strike. On their second possession, the Falcons drove right down the field into the red-zone. Were it not for a tremendous pass deflection by NaVorro Bowman, Ryan would have had a second, quick touchdown pass to Jacquizz Rodgers in the flat. Instead of lobbing it over Bowman’s head, Ryan had to get rid of the ball, and delivered it too far to the inside, resulting in an incomplete pass, and ultimately forcing a field goal. It ended up being four points left on the field that would haunt Atlanta.
But things didn’t just end there. Atlanta forced another San Francisco punt, and then drove down the field. On the 49ers 20, Ryan dropped back and dropped a pass into the back left corner of the endzone to Julio Jones, who climbed the ladder over the defender who had blanketed him, and managed to tap his toes in-bounds for the touchdown. Ryan looked fantastic. Jones looked like an unstoppable force. The Falcons offense was absolutely rolling.
The Falcons defense finally gave way to a pair of touchdown drives to San Francisco. Sure, it wasn’t pretty, and the Niners finally looked capable of establishing the run and shredding the linebackers with the tight ends. But things were still looking good as the Falcons responded with a resounding touchdown score of their own to Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. Matt Ryan easily found him, and the Falcons went up by ten points going into the half. What in the world more could an Atlanta Falcons fan ask for?
Perhaps one more touchdown in the second half, and someone to cover the tight end. Heck, any points in the second half would have been very welcome. Judging by how extremely well the Falcons moved the ball and scored in the first half, I would have never dreamed that they wouldn’t put up a point in the second half. Completely shocking, appalling, and unacceptable. I guess it’s closer to what the 49ers defense should have done, and was expected to do in the first half. But it just looks really bad having a pair of goose-eggs in the 3rd & 4th quarter.
The other part of that was the poor ability of Atlanta to cover the tight end. The Falcons did a great job of taking away the wide receivers down the field. They also nearly completely kept Kaepernick in check in the run game. But the two things they couldn’t do were to prevent Frank Gore busting off large chunks of yardage in the run game, and they certainly couldn’t prevent the tight ends from doing significant damage in the intermediate passing game. The Falcons linebackers had absolutely no answer for Vernon Davis, and when he got to the secondary, they couldn’t tackle him. Davis has had bigger statistical games than 5 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown, but those catches constantly came in critical situations, moved the chains, and wore down the Atlanta Falcons defense. The inability to defend the tight end showed itself against Seattle, and it reared it’s ugly head once and for all against the 2012 Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Title game.
It’s a truly disappointing way to end the season. The Falcons were so incredibly close to getting the the Super Bowl. On their final offensive possession, they had four downs to get into the endzone, and just couldn’t manage the task. It makes me sick to my stomach. Tony Gonzalez may not be back, the confidence of the Atlanta Falcons was at an all time high, and things seemed to be destined in their favor. But in the end, the Falcons couldn’t overcome two turnovers from Matt Ryan, an interception and a fumbled snap, and that spelled their ultimate doom.