What it means: We finally get to stop hearing how coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan can’t win in the postseason. They did it. The Falcons, who didn’t always play at a high level even when they were winning in the regular season, played something pretty close to a perfect first half, and that was enough to hold off a second-half rally by Seattle. This game came with enormous pressure because the Falcons were 0-3 in the postseason in the Smith-Ryan era, but the Falcons handled that pressure magnificently. Now, it no longer can be said that they can’t win big games.
A little perspective: The win was the first in the playoffs for the Falcons since they defeated the St. Louis Rams in the 2004 season.
The miracle: It never should have come down to it after the Falcons led 20-0 at halftime, but they trailed 28-27 with 25 seconds left. Ryan completed a couple of quick passes, and Matt Bryant won the game with a 49-yard field goal.
What I liked: The performance of Atlanta’s defense in the first half. Coordinator Mike Nolan cooked up a masterpiece. I thought the Falcons would have trouble with the running/passing of Russell Wilson and the power running of Marshawn Lynch. They didn’t. The defense turned in a brilliant performance with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux leading the way. Babineaux’s sack of Wilson at the end of the first half prevented the Seahawks from taking a little bit of momentum into halftime.
What I didn’t like: Atlanta’s defensive performance in the second half. The Falcons very nearly squandered the lead.
What else I liked: The way offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter used the running game as a supplement to the passing game. The Falcons are a pass-first team now, but there were times during the season when Koetter, perhaps acting on orders from Smith, tried to force the running game. That didn’t happen Sunday. Even against Seattle’s vaunted secondary, the Falcons rode the passing game. That opened the way for a few nicely timed big plays from the running game.
Play of the day: For five seasons, I’ve been laughing at people who say Ryan doesn’t have a strong arm. Can we finally put that myth to rest? If you didn’t see it live or catch it on the highlights, please go take a look at his touchdown pass to Roddy White with 4:16 left in the second quarter. Officially, the play went for 47 yards. But Ryan threw the ball well more than 50 yards in the air.
Reason for worry? Defensive end John Abraham left the game with an ankle injury and did not return. It’s unclear how serious the injury is. Aside from Abraham, the Falcons don’t have a pass-rusher of any consequence. If he’s going to miss the NFC Championship Game, the Falcons must get very creative with their blitz packages to generate any sort of pass rush.
What’s next: The Falcons will host the San Francisco 49ers in next week’s NFC Championship Game.