Packers Survive, Falcons Advance To NFC Championship
The Falcons and the Packers took different routes to the NFC Championship game, but both teams are now one win away from the Super Bowl.
Atlanta handled up on the Seahawks for a solid 36-20 victory; meanwhile, the Packers needed every last second of the game to bury the Cowboys, 34-31, on a game-winning field goal.
In the end, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan came up huge when it counted.
Rodgers passed for 356 yards and two scores in the divisional round, but his biggest throw came at the end of the game when he floated a ball to tight end Jared Cook, who made a sensational grab on the sideline. Cook's catch set up Mason Crosby's game-winning kick from 51 yards out, punching their ticket to the NFC Championship.
"It's just kind of schoolyard sometimes, late in the game like that," Rodgers explained coolly. "Jared just kept on coming and I tried to put it in a good spot, and he made a hell of a catch, then Mason makes the kick twice. Unbelievable."
Crosby was ice cold, sinking two 50+ yard kicks in the fourth quarter to ward off a late comeback from the Cowboys. Jason Garrett tried to ice Crosby on the final kick, but he nailed it both times.
Before dismissing the Cowboys, it's only right to acknowledge their valiant comeback attempt.
In the biggest game of Dak Prescott's NFL career, he delivered for 302 yards and three touchdowns, and he led Dallas down the field to tie the game on a Dan Bailey field goal with less than a minute left. He did enough to get the game to overtime, but Rodgers swept the rug out from underneath him.
Prescott's fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliot played a strong game too, registering 125 yards on 22 carries on a huge stage. The future is bright for Dallas, but their season ends in the divisional round.
On the opposite side of the bracket, it took Atlanta a quarter to figure out Seattle's defense, then they took off. After getting shutout in the first quarter, the Falcons exploded for 19 points before halftime.
It was clear Seattle wanted to take Julio Jones out of the game, so Ryan looked to other options to open up the offense. He hit eight different receivers for 338 yards and three TD's, including one to Jones, but he gave most of the credit to his buddies in the backfield, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
"[They're] so versatile, able to run the ball, and get the ball out of the backfield," Ryan said after the win. "They were huge for us today and one of the reasons we were able to win."
Freeman and Coleman combined for 204 total yards of offense and two touchdowns, proving they might be the most dynamic duo in football.
The true difference in the game came in the turnover department. Seattle turned the ball over twice, and Atlanta never gave the ball away.
Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn was fired up after the win, but he sent a clear message to his team that they're not done yet.
"The run is just beginning!" - DQ pic.twitter.com/55zQhT75i5
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) January 15, 2017
The divisional round sets up an offensive delight for the NFC Championship. It will be a duel between two MVP candidates in Ryan and Rodgers, with a berth to the Super Bowl on the line. The Packers are one of the hottest teams in all of football, but the Falcons' deep arsenal of weapons makes them dangerous in any matchup.
Everyone in Saints' country now has one wish: Please Green Bay, don't let the Falcons go to the Super Bowl. If New Orleans can't get in, at least don't let those Dirty Birds into the dance.