Around the NFL  

 

Matt Ryan, Falcons upset Rams, will play Eagles next

Print

The Atlanta Falcons held the NFL's top scoring offense to 13 points Saturday night in Los Angeles, beating the Rams 26-13 to advance to the NFC Divisional Round to play the Philadelphia Eagles. Here is what you need to know:

1. The Atlanta Falcons didn't blow a lead this time. Dan Quinn's team pounced on an early lead thanks to two Rams special teams turnovers and pulled away late on a Julio Jones touchdown catch. Atlanta's offense wasn't pretty, and didn't sport big plays, but moved the chains in the second half to dominate time of possession, 37:34-22:26. After a season in which he was consistently criticized, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called a wonderful second half at the Coliseum, keeping the L.A. defense off balance. The Falcons powered down the field with Devonta Freeman and pecked away with short passes to dice up the Rams' D. A quick screen pass to Mohamed Sanu that went for 52 yards was a marvelous call by Sark, and it set up the game-clinching dagger to Jones.

2. Quinn's defense deserves much of the credit for the win. The Falcons held Jared Goff to 5.8 yards per attempt and bottled up Todd Gurley most of the night. The MVP candidate bested the century mark, going for 101 rushing yards on 14 carries. But 47 of those yards came on a two-play sequence early in the fourth quarter (those two plays were more than the 43 yards he'd gained on every run prior). Led by speedy linebacker Deion Jones, the Falcons also pinned down Gurley in the passing game. The running back caught just four passes for 10 yards on 10 targets. Gurley averaged more than 175 scrimmage yards in each of his last five games before his 111 Saturday night. With Gurley stymied the majority of the game, the Rams' high-flying offense, which scored 29.9 points per game in 2017, was grounded by the Falcons' fleet defense.

3. The Rams boasted three special teams players on the 2017 All-Pro team. On Saturday night, the return game let them down. The Rams botched a punt early in the first quarter, leading to a Falcons field goal. Pharoh Cooper, an All-Pro returner, then fumbled a kick return that Atlanta turned into the first touchdown of the game. With both teams starting out sluggish (five straight three-and-outs to open the game) the 10 points off turnovers proved to be devastating for Sean McVay's team.

4. McVay's offense came out of the gate listless. Blame the Rams' poor start to playoff inexperience or a bevy of starters sitting in Week 17 if you must. L.A. earned just one first down in the first quarter and didn't score its first points until 2:34 left in the first half. The 27-minute drought was its longest of the season, and it put the Rams behind the eight ball against an experienced Falcons team. With McVay opting to throw 45 passes to just 16 rushes, it wasn't the same Rams offense most of the season.

5. Breaking News: Julio Jones scored a touchdown! The Falcons' No. 1 receiver scored just three touchdowns all season but earned the game-sealing score in this one. Julio ran a drag route behind the line of scrimmage before turning upfield to snag a looping Matt Ryan pass for the TD. Jones beat up Rams corners on a bevy of underneath passes, catching nine of 10 targets for 94 yards. Behind an injured offensive line, Ryan ran a dink-and-dunk offense that proved effective down the stretch, earning points on Atlanta's first three possessions of the second half to put the game out of reach.

6. The Rams need to hand Aaron Donald a blank check. The game-wrecking defensive tackle destroyed the Falcons' offensive line all night, living in the backfield. His final stat line (five tackles, a tackle for loss and half a sack) does a disservice to how the Defensive Player of the Year candidate disrupted the game. He constantly beat double teams and was in Ryan's face seemingly every play. Donald deserves to be made the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL this offseason.

7. Robert Woods was the best player for the Rams' offense, totaling 142 yards on nine catches. The big-play receiver made some gorgeous grabs for his quarterback, including laying out for a 38-yarder to set up a field goal before the end of the half to cut the lead to 13-10. Jared Goff threw a few dimes -- touchdown to Cooper Kupp, pinpoint sideline dart to Woods -- but couldn't find a rhythm. The second-year quarterback was under pressure in the pocket much of the night, completing just 53 percent of his passes for 259 yards and a TD. Sammy Watkins had a night to forget as he heads to free agency, catching just one pass for 23 yards on four targets.

8. Long live Matt Bryant. The Falcons kicker carried the scoring load when the Falcons' offense sputtered in scoring range. Bryant nailed all four of his field-goal attempts, two from beyond 50 yards.

9. Atlanta heads to Philadelphia for a Divisional Round matchup versus Nick Foles and the Eagles.

Print