NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson Earn Their Stripes
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When you look at the matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, it has to stand out how the Seahawks allowed the least points per game this year, while the Falcons have allowed the fifth-least amount of points this season. Most of the predictions revolved around the game being more defensive than a shootout.
Instead, both quarterbacks came to play and made numerous plays all game. With Matt Ryan’s history of struggling in the playoffs and Russell Wilson kept in check last week, it was unlikely that both quarterbacks would throw for 250 or more yards, yet they both did.
It was a classic game that people will watch five years from now based on the fantastic comeback from Seattle and Atlanta later making up for its faults. I’ll talk about a few other major moments in the game, but this is dedicated to the quarterbacks because I really didn’t see both quarterbacks playing that well.
Finally Ryan Gets The Win He Deserves
For three seasons now, Matt Ryan has put together great numbers and has had so many memorable wins with fourth-quarter comebacks. It was that case again where he played well, but a few costly mistakes put him in another predicament. Once again he calmly delivered another comeback with his superb pocket presence and great accuracy.
Everyone expected that Ryan would have some problems in this game with the Seahawks secondary, which he did. Richard Sherman lived up to expectations for the most part and made several plays in coverage to break up potential big plays.
It was a great effort by the Seahawks secondary, especially without Chris Clemons and getting very little pressure on Ryan all game. It doesn’t matter what secondary you have, though. Ryan has joined the class where he’ll still have his drives where he’ll pick apart any secondary regardless of how good they are
Another great thing with Ryan is how persistent he is and never loses confidence if something isn’t working. Despite the great plays by Sherman, eventually Ryan knew the deep ball would work and a fake screen to Julio Jones caught Seattle off guard, which led to a 47-yard touchdown to Roddy White.
Other than the second interception, Ryan didn’t really make many poor throws. The first interception was due to pressure and Tony Gonzalez not continuing his route. Other than that, Ryan was very poised and seemed to put all the playoff struggles behind him.
I’m not sure if you want to classify Ryan as elite yet. Many people have different standards of what elite is. I was going to make an argument that he is, but I’m going to wait for that. What we can all agree on is that Ryan is the real deal, and that if he can lead the Falcons to a Super Bowl victory, we can put him in that category with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees among others.
My Apologies To Russell Wilson
The title says it all because of an article I wrote last week. Last week, I was getting annoyed with the Russell Wilson praise and wasn’t completely buying into him being that great. It was pretty controversial, and I’m not going to deny that it was a bit rushed, but I’m not making any excuses. I was clearly wrong about him.
The major question I had with Wilson was if he could step up if Marshawn Lynch was struggling. It seemed like Wilson was getting by with a great rushing attack to aid him. After an abysmal first half overall for Seattle, they knew that they had to start throwing being down 20 points. Wilson realized the situation and began to take over.
With Lynch being mostly nonexistent, running for just 46 yards on 16 carries, it was clear that Wilson was going to have to put the team on his back. Wilson showed off his arm by making several down-field throws with the offensive line controlling the Falcons front four. I’m aware of John Abraham being out for most of the game, but that doesn’t take much away from Wilson.
Atlanta’s secondary has been terrific this season in the Georgia Dome, making quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning play their worst games of the year. They were starting to collapse in the second half with a combination of poor zone defense and blitzes that didn’t get to Wilson.
His main target was Zach Miller, who had a field day against the Falcons in the middle of the field. Golden Tate also came on in the second half and began to make numerous catches by not giving up on his route. They may not be major stars, but they continued to make timely plays for the Seahawks to make their comeback.
Even when the blitz came, Wilson showed off his elite athleticism, including a spin move that avoided Sean Weatherspoon, which could have put the Seahawks in a 4th-and-long predicament. The spin move helped him find Marshawn Lynch wide open for a big gain, which set up the touchdown to put them in the lead.
I’m not sure where to rank Wilson in the current rookie list, but he certainly made his case for being the best. This is similar to the 2004 draft class with Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers on how good these three rookie quarterbacks can be in Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Regardless of the rankings, Wilson showed that he’s a top-10 quarterback and that he can put the team on his back against a great team like the Falcons.
One thing that stood out to me has to be the Falcons running game. It has been mostly below average all season. but Michael Turner showed some serious burst and aggression throughout the game. He’s had some major issues this year and seemed to be really aging throughout the regular season, but Turner seemed very rejuvenated against Seattle.
Also, Jacquizz Rodgers, who was in one of my 10 players to watch, had a highlight-reel run by running over Earl Thomas on his way to a 45-yard gain. He is known for his shiftiness and making people miss, but he’s not afraid to go head-to-head with hard-hitting safeties. The running game was very effective for Atlanta, and it really helped the Falcons offense move the ball throughout the game.
Bruce Irvin was a non-factor and really let down a Seahawks front four that needed him. He was shut down by Tyson Clabo for the majority of the game. This is going to draw concerns going forward for Irvin, who I still feel is a 3-4 outside linebacker unless he puts on weight.
Another reoccurring topic continues to be Sherman’s antics. I don’t have much of a problem with Sherman being arrogant because he’s elite. If there is anything unnecessary with Sherman, it's how he claps if someone catches a pass on him. I wouldn’t want the cornerback of my favorite team clapping after getting burned in coverage for a touchdown. Other than that, Sherman is a joy to watch and he’s going to be the next true shutdown corner in this league.
The last final note has to be given in appreciation to Tony Gonzalez. He didn’t have a great game, but Gonzalez was once again productive with six catches for 51 years and a touchdown. He continues to catch third-down passes in traffic and had the key catch to set up the game-winner from Matt Bryant. It’s going to be a shame to see him retire while he’s still playing at such a high level.
Overall, if you were a casual fan watching it, you got your money’s worth. If you are a Falcons fan, you probably skipped a few heartbeats in the fourth quarter and were on the breaking point of crying before buying a Matt Bryant jersey. If you are a Seahawks fan, it has to be heartbreaking, but overall it was a year that nobody expected, and you should be really proud of how much the team improved.
Both teams will be contenders for years to come, and it should be interesting to see if this is the start of a rivalry. I’ll be back Friday to preview the Falcons-49ers game, which should be another classic playoff game.
Allen Strk is a columnist on Bleacher Report. You can read more of my work at TJRSports.com covering NFL, NBA, and MMA. You can follow me at @Allen_Strk on Twitter or e-mail questions/comments at AStrk19@gmail.com.
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