LOS ANGELES — The Atlanta Falcons, the team that always talks about taking things one game at a time, just cleared a major hurdle in their quest for a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Maybe it’s too early to start booking hotels in Minneapolis, but Saturday’s 26-13 road win for the No. 6 seed Falcons over the No. 3 seed Los Angeles Rams proved they are ready to make another deep postseason run. The high-scoring Rams, who averaged almost 30 points per game to lead the NFL, looked like an average offense against a Falcons defense that continues to ascend.
And nothing symbolized a team poised for the moment than reigning MVP Matt Ryan‘s 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones with five minutes left in regulation. Ryan, pressured by Connor Barwin, slipped on the play-action play yet still had the presence to loft a perfect pass to Jones’ back shoulder for the most important touchdown of the game.
Now the Falcons, who went 5-3 on the road during the regular season, find themselves set for a trip to Philadelphia next Saturday to face the top-seeded Eagles. But here’s the catch: The Eagles are without quarterback Carson Wentz, the guy most considered the MVP front-runner before he went down with a season-ending ACL injury. It’s a break for the Falcons, who most likely won’t face as much a challenge trying to slow down Nick Foles, the Eagles’ new starter.
To top it off, the Falcons still have yet to play that “complete game” from an offensive perspective. A win over the Rams might not have happened had it not been for a couple of fumble recoveries on special teams, one coming off a forced fumble from rookie defensive back Damontae Kazee. Those turnovers led to 10 points. And the Falcons would have had poor field position for almost the entire game had it not been for those recoveries.
Ryan and the offense continued to miss on some red zone opportunities, although they converted the one that counted most with the touchdown to Jones. A 52-yard catch-and-run by Mohamed Sanu helped make the score possible.
The Falcons know they can outscore anyone despite seeing more than a 10-point drop-off in their scoring average from a year ago. But what makes them even more dangerous now is the way the defense has played. Saturday’s game against the Rams showed how dominant the defense could play, with the Falcons limiting MVP candidate Todd Gurley‘s ability to be effective, particularly as a receiver in the passing game.
The Falcons made plays on the ball, led by cornerbacks Robert Alford, Desmond Trufant and linebacker Deion Jones. They got after the quarterback, with key sacks and quarterback hits by Vic Beasley Jr., Takk McKinley, and De’Vondre Campbell. And they tackled well, none better than what nickelback Brian Poole showed in the open field.
The Falcons also have a reliable kicker in Matt Bryant, who made four field goals, including a career postseason long from 54 yards.
In other words, the Falcons have all the ingredients to be a Super Bowl team. And like they’ve said for the past few weeks, everything they want is still right in front of them.