Atlanta dealt with Seattle’s top-ranked defense the same way it has most of the others they faced this season. The Falcons rolled up 422 turnover-free yards to dispatch the Seahawks 36-20 Saturday to advance to the NFC Championship game.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn credited the win to the commitment by the players to work hard in practice. “This game was won during the week,” said Quinn. “The preparation the guys put in. The intensity of getting ready for one another, it was great all the way through the week.”
Seattle came out swinging taking the opening kickoff 89 yards on 14 plays. Russell Wilson’s 7-yard pass to tight end Jimmie Graham gave the few Seahawks fans sprinkled about the sold out Georgia Dome a reason to cheer.
It was important for the Falcons to match the intensity on both sides of the ball. “We had the mindset at the beginning of the week that it was going to take all four and might have to take another one,” said linebacker Deion Jones.
The offense made it clear that it was more than up for the challenge. Atlanta ate up the remaining six minutes in change of the first quarter moving the ball steadily up the field. A clutch 8-yard pass reception by Julio Jones in front of Richard Sherman on third-and-seven kept the drive alive. The play gave the Falcons such a boost they didn’t face another third down on the drive. Ryan and Jones victimized Sherman twice more including a 7-yard touchdown play.
After a 33-yard field goal from kicker Steven Hauschka, the Seattle offense went dormant. “Once we saw what they were trying to do to us, our sideline coaching is amazing so we were ready for everything they had,” said Falcons safety Ricardo Allen.
Offensive lineman Ben Garland, who moonlights occasionally on the Falcons defensive line, touched Russell Wilson down in the end zone for a safety. Wilson fell backward when one of his offensive linemen stepped on his foot after the snap.
Atlanta capitalized on the subsequent free kick with a 35-yard field goal giving the Falcons their first lead of the game 12-10.
While the Seahawks offense continued misfiring, the special teams gave the defense a great opportunity to make a play. Punter Jon Ryan boomed a 60 yarder that Neiko Thorpe touched down at the 1-yard line.
A good defensive stand meant Seattle would go into the half at the very least trailing 10-12 and a short enough field for the offense to possibly set up a field goal or touchdown.
The opportunity for the Seahawks defense became an opportunity for the Falcons offense. The NFL’s second-ranked offense moved down the field with the precision of a high-end timepiece. Ryan passed his back off the goal line and all the way down inside the red zone. On first and 10 from the 14, he found a wide open Tevin Coleman waiting in the end zone for the score.
Coleman and Freeman kept the Seahawks defense honest combining to rush for 101 yards and catching 7 passes for 102 yards. “I thought it was important for us to get them involved in the passing game early to make some plays,” said Ryan. “I thought Tevin and Devonta did a great job for us today.”
Eight receivers, including Coleman and Freeman, caught 26 passes and 3 touchdowns from Ryan. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor believed there were a lot of things the defense could have done to challenge the Falcons offense. “We could have covered better,” said Chancellor. “We could have gotten off of the field more on third downs. It’s a lot of things that we could have done better, we could have tackled better. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”
One of the keys to success all season for the Falcons was scoring touchdowns throughout the second half.
Devonta Freeman answered the call first capping the opening drive of the second half with a 1-yard touchdown run. Mohamed Sanu did the same with a touchdown reception in the fourth. In between those touchdowns, the defense kept the visitors at bay.
Safety Ricardo Allen picked off Wilson’s pass intended for running back Alex Collins at the 9-yard line to snuff one Seattle drive. Linebacker Deion Jones intercepted Wilson a second time at the Seattle 43 to give the ball back to the offense and effectively end the game.
All photos by Jake McDonald, CORE360 Sports