Matt Ryan backs up MVP talk as Falcons beat Seahawks, advance to NFC title game – Yahoo Sports

In what could be the final NFL game at the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Falcons fans went from screaming with anticipation to eerily quieted when it appeared the Seattle Seahawks might have their number. But by the end of the first half, when the Falcons had completely flipped momentum, the Dome rocked with chants of “MVP! MVP!”

Those, of course, were for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who capped off a brilliant regular season with a terrific performance in the Falcons’ 36-20 win — their first postseason victory in four years and a day — over the Seattle Seahawks to advance to the NFC championship game.

The Falcons could host the game next Sunday if the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys, but if the Cowboys win Atlanta will head to Dallas for the right play in Super Bowl LI in Houston.

Falcons running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for 202 yards from scrimmage, and receiver Julio Jones — tormenting Seahawks corner Richard Sherman early on — caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Ryan completed 26 of 37 passes, hitting eight different receivers, for 338 yards and three TD passes. The Falcons rolled up 422 yards of offense — the most the Seahawks have allowed in a postseason game in nearly six years.

You can joke that Future jinxed the Seahawks, or that they might have had a better chance if Earl Thomas was on the field. But Ryan and the run game delivered, and the Falcons turned in a physical and furious performance to earn the win.

Quarterback Matt Ryan turned in a great performance as the Atlanta Falcons advanced to the NFC championship game. (Getty Images)Quarterback Matt Ryan turned in a great performance as the Atlanta Falcons advanced to the NFC championship game. (Getty Images)

The Seahawks led 10-7 after a brilliant opening touchdown drive that took 14 plays and milked 8:34 — almost 15 percent of the game clock — and a second-quarter field goal. But the Falcons flipped the game completely before halftime with a dizzying series of events: a devastating penalty, a safety and a Falcons field goal and touchdown.

Devin Hester’s 80-yard kickoff return was called back, a penalty that helped pin the Seahawks on their own goal line. Then replacement rookie right guard Rees Odhiambo stepped on the foot of Russell Wilson, who fell into his own end zone for a safety, a score that cut the Seahawks’ lead to 10-9. The Falcons then got the ball back on the free kick and tacked on three more points with a Matt Bryant 35-yard field goal.

The Seahawks went three-and-out, opting not to go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 39-yard line. The punt rolled to the Atlanta 1, and Ryan and Co. went to work on what would be their seventh TD drive of at least 92 yards this season. That’s when the “MVP” chants started raining down from the crowd, and he had earned them.

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who to this point hasn’t landed a head-coaching job, called a brilliant series as Atlanta cruised 99 yards on nine plays. Ryan hit on 7 of 9 passes, accounting for all of the yards on the drive, and hit a wide-open Coleman on a back-breaking touchdown pass to head into the half with a 19-10 lead.

The Falcons tacked on another touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, and it too was a gem — 13 plays, 75 yards in just under six minutes. They brilliantly mixed the run and pass as Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for 44 yards on the drive. Freeman capped it off on a 1-yard score to push the Seahawks’ beleaguered defense into a deeper hole.

The Falcons’ improved defense was gutted on the opening drive of the game but stepped up with enough big plays — a huge red-zone sack by Brooks Reed in the second quarter seemed to spur the unit — in a hard-hitting performance. Holding the Seahawks to a field goal midway through the third quarter was a win, all things considered, following a tough penalty against the Falcons as the Seahawks attempted to punt on fourth-and-2 from their own 32. The Falcons matched with a field goal of their own to start the fourth quarter pretty much put the game away, even with Wilson finding Doug Baldwin for a 31-yard TD pass to make it a two-score game with 3:29 left.

Wilson got off to a red-hot start and his scrambling gave the Falcons fits at times, but he was held in check for the most part, finishing 17-of-30 passing for 225 yards with a touchdown and two fourth-quarter interceptions, one by rookie Deion Jones on a wild deflected pass that looked like a catch. Seattle’s awful offensive line play became too hard to overcome, as Wilson was running for his life most of the game, and the run game didn’t produce enough to help out.

This was only the Falcons’ fourth postseason win since the lone Super Bowl appearance in franchise history almost 20 years ago. The Falcons have an offensive juggernaut that just rolled through a battle-tested Seahawks defense, and Ryan backed up his MVP-caliber regular season with his biggest postseason performance.

If this is it for the Georgia Dome, it was a hell of a way to tear the building down — with a scorching offense that few remaining teams appear equipped to stop. And Ryan was the engineer, helping end the narrative that he can’t deliver a huge performance in a playoff game.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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