Falcons punish Seahawks in blowout win
The Atlanta Falcons capitalised on mistakes by the Seattle Seahawks en route to a 36-20 victory in in the divisional playoff game.
Seattle made several momentum-killing mistakes, while Atlanta put up 422 yards of total offense and capitalized on each Seahawks mistake on Saturday.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was superb, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns with completions to eight different receivers on a 26-for-37 day.
With the game well in hand, the Falcons played most of the fourth quarter without Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, who caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons had the NFL's highest-scoring offence during the regular season and picked apart one of the NFL's best defences on Saturday.
Atlanta, who averaged nearly 34 points per game and scored over 40 points five times this season, could have scored over 40 against the Seahawks, but kneeled on the ball three times inside Seattle's five.
The game began with neither defense able to stop the opposing offense.
Seattle (11-6-1) had an impressive opening drive that took over eight minutes off the clock. The 14-play, 89-yard drive ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to tight end Jimmy Graham.
The Falcons (12-5) responded with a long drive of their own and tied the game on a seven-yard touchdown pass to Jones.
The Seahawks nearly scored another touchdown on their next drive, but Paul Richardson's apparent 52-yard touchdown was called back after a replay review showed Richardson had been touched down by Jalen Collins at the 19-yard line. Seattle had to settle for a field goal and then forced a Falcons punt.
Devin Hester, who spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Falcons, set up Seattle's field goal with a 50-yard kick-off return. He nearly put the Seahawks in position to score again after Matt Bosher's punt, but his 80-yard return was nullified by a holding call. Instead of having the ball at the Falcons seven-yard line, the Seahawks were backed up at their own seven.
Two plays later, Wilson stumbled into his own end zone after getting stepped on by backup guard Rees Odhiambo. Atlanta guard Ben Garland, who was in as an extra defensive lineman, fell on Wilson for a game-shifting safety.
Atlanta closed the half with a field goal and touchdown pass to a wide-open Tevin Coleman to take a 19-10 half-time lead.
Coleman had 57 rushing yards to go with three catches for 22 yards, but Atlanta's other running back - Devonta Freeman - had a huge game with 45 rushing yards and a touchdown and four receptions for 80 yards, including a back-breaking 53-yard reception late in the third quarter.
The Falcons poured it on in the second half, especially after the Seahawks lost cornerback DeShawn Shead to a non-contact knee injury early in the third quarter.
"We executed really well across the board," Ryan told Fox Sports following the game. "We weren't perfect by any means, but consistency throughout the day, I'm really proud of the way we played."
A fourth-quarter interception by Falcons safety Ricardo Allen on a fluttering Wilson pass was the final nail in the proverbial coffin. The turnover led to a three-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Mohamed Sanu to give Atlanta a 36-13 lead with under four minutes remaining.
Wilson finished 17 of 30 for 225 yards and two touchdowns and a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions.
The Falcons advance to next weekend's NFC championship game and will hope for the Green Bay Packers (11-6) to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. A Green Bay win means the Falcons would host the NFC title tilt. The Cowboys (13-3) own home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and would host the Falcons if they beat the Packers at AT&T Stadium.