Four years ago, the Atlanta Falcons held a three-score lead in the NFC Championship Game and watched their Super Bowl dream slip away.
Suffice it to say, Matt Ryan and Co. learned their lesson.
Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns, adding another on the ground as the Falcons dominated the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, to win this year's NFC championship.
Dude Perfect commented on Ryan's performance:
It's the Falcons' second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Their first was at Super Bowl XXXIII, where they lost to the Denver Broncos in John Elway's final NFL game.
Much as they have all season, these Falcons came out and defied expectations as some waited for them to fall short. Ryan surgically carved up an injury-ravaged Green Bay secondary, throwing for 271 of his 392 yards in the first half. He spread the ball to eight receivers and even broke out for 23 yards on the ground, including a 14-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter.
The Ringer's Twitter feed commented on Ryan's rushing performance in the first half:
Ryan's rushing touchdown and Matt Bryant's point after made the score 17-0, harkening back memories of the 2013 NFC Championship Game. Atlanta led the San Francisco 49ers on its home field, 24-14, by halftime before going scoreless in the second half of a 28-24 loss. That defeat was the Falcons' last playoff appearance before this season and brought credence to those critical of Ryan, who to that point held a 1-4 career postseason record.
There was no comeback this time, as Atlanta tacked on another touchdown just before the half after an Aaron Rodgers interception to lead, 24-0, at the midway point. The Falcons then added a 73-yard pitch-and-catch from Ryan to Julio Jones on their first drive of the second half, which essentially broke Twitter:
Jones finished with a game-high 180 yards on nine receptions, hauling in a pair of touchdowns. He came into the week listed as questionable with a lingering turf toe injury but showed no ill effects as he found himself open time and again. The Packers spent most of the afternoon playing off coverage, and Jones took advantage underneath and over the middle. It was his first 100-yard performance since a Dec. 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
ESPN Stats & Info contextualized his performance:
Mohamed Sanu also added 52 yards and a touchdown on his five receptions. The Falcons outgained Green Bay, 493-367, overall, a difference that undersells the dichotomous performances from the NFC finalists.
Rodgers, nearly perfect in bringing the Packers back from their 4-6 nadir to within a win of a Super Bowl appearance, saw his fiercest opposition Sunday. The Falcons created constant pressure by disguising their blitzes well, bringing him down just two times for a sack but causing disruption in Green Bay's passing game.
Rodgers finished with 287 yards and three touchdowns through the air but needed 45 attempts to get there. He completed 27 balls, most of them for minimal gains, and looked visibly frustrated by a Falcons defense that ranked 27th in scoring during the regular season.
Jordy Nelson, playing despite broken ribs, hauled in six passes for 67 yards and a score. Tight end Jared Cook had seven receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown, and Randall Cobb had six receptions for 82 yards. They were Rodgers' three favorite targets. The Packers scored on three of their five second-half drives, though they were facing much less stringent coverage than in the first half.
But every time the Packers offense got a little momentum, Atlanta would answer back with long drives or scores of its own. Tevin Coleman wrapped up the scoring for the Falcons with a three-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, which came after Nelson and Rodgers connected to bring Green Bay back within three scores.
This is the second straight year the NFC has been decided in a lopsided affair. The Carolina Panthers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 49-15, a year ago before losing to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
The Falcons move on to face either the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers, who play Sunday evening in the AFC Championship Game. Atlanta did not play either team during the regular season, nor did it play a team from the AFC East or AFC North. The Falcons are 0-4 against Pittsburgh and New England since Ryan became their starting quarterback in 2008.
Rodgers is now 1-2 in conference title games, losing his last two.
The Falcons provided comments from a number of players and coach Dan Quinn after the game:
The Packers provided comments from coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers:
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