Falcons Fly High
ATLANTA—When the Atlanta Falcons earned their only other Super Bowl berth, the NFC Championship Game victory was in Minnesota. This time, their home fans got to help celebrate, and it was quite a way to close down the Georgia Dome.
Matt Ryan, showing that he could be just as good in the playoffs as in the regular season, threw for four touchdowns and ran for another, and the Falcons routed the Green Bay Packers 44-21 on Sunday.
"We've got some more business at Houston in two weeks," Ryan said after the Falcons were presented the NFC trophy.
Ryan completed 27 of 38 passes for 392 yards. The Packers' defense had no answer for the quarterback and star receiver Julio Jones, who caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
"They've got the best receiver in the NFL, and Matt is going to be the MVP for a reason," Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett said. "That's a tough offense to stop, and they're really clicking."
It took an overtime field goal by Morten Andersen after the 1998 season for the Falcons to advance to their other Super Bowl, where they lost to the Denver Broncos. This NFC title, though, came in a rout.
The Falcons led 31-0 early in the third quarter after a 73-yard touchdown connection from Ryan to Jones, who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Ryan went a sixth straight game without throwing an interception and wasn't sacked as the Falcons converted 10 of 13 third-down opportunities and amassed 493 yards.
"We played a hot team. You've got to give them credit," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Matt is playing incredible right now, and that's a very good offense."
Said Atlanta wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who had five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, "When we're all playing together at a high level, we all feed off each other. When we get rolling, we're hard to stop."
Rodgers, who had led the Packers to eight straight victories, completed 27 of 45 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked twice and threw an interception.
The Falcons drove 80 yards in 13 plays after the opening kickoff, Sanu scoring the touchdown on a 2-yard underhand flip from a scrambling Ryan. The trend for the game was set.
The lead was 10-0 at the end of the first quarter after Matt Bryant booted a 28-yard field goal following a miss by the Packers' Mason Crosby from 31 yards. Crosby previously was successful on 23 consecutive postseason kicks, an NFL record.
It looked as if the Packers would to cut into the Falcons' lead early in the second quarter, but Jalen Collins stripped Aaron Ripkowski at the 11-yard line and recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
Soon, the Atlanta lead was 17-0 as Ryan scrambled in from 14 yards out to climax an 80-yard drive.
"Man, you look fast today," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he told Ryan after his TD.
The Falcons couldn't hold a similar lead in the 2012 NFC title game, losing 28-24 at home to the San Francisco 49ers. There would be no repeat against the Packers.
Ricardo Allen picked off Rogers, and the Falcons went 68 yards to make it 24-0 at halftime on a 5-yard toss from Ryan to Jones.
"I feel like we hurt ourselves in the first half more than they really stopped us," Rodgers said.
Ryan was 22 of 32 in the first half for 271 yards, completing passes to eight different players.
The Packers, down 31-0 in the third quarter, didn't reach the end zone until Rodgers hit Davante Adams from 2 yards. Jordy Nelson caught a 3-yard TD pass later in the third quarter, but that came after Ryan connected with Devonta Freeman from a yard out.
The Falcons scored their sixth touchdown on a 3-yard run by Tevin Coleman early in the fourth quarter before Rodgers hit Jared Cook from a yard out on a touchdown pass.