The Atlanta Falcons are heading to Super Bowl LI after thrashing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 at home on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was nearly perfect on the day, completing 27 of 39 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns while adding 23 yards and another score on the ground.
|2017 NFC Championship Game Scoring|
|Green Bay Packers||0||0||15||6||21|
Wide receiver Julio Jones was his favorite target and nigh unstoppable on the day, reeling in nine catches for 180 yards and two scores. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman each scored a touchdown, while wideout Mohamed Sanu proved an excellent deputy for Jones out on the flanks with five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown of his own.
It's the second Super Bowl trip for the Falcons in franchise history. Their only appearance came in 1999 at Super Bowl XXXIII, where they lost 34-19 to John Elway's Denver Broncos.
Flu-stricken Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was under immense pressure for much of the contest and made several uncharacteristically errant throws, but he still managed to finish with 287 passing yards, three touchdowns, one interception and 46 more yards with his legs.
While Rodgers has done well to carry on the tradition of improvisational brilliance set by his predecessor, Brett Favre, it was Ryan who looked like the better schoolyard player of the two, especially on his shovel-pass flip to Sanu for the game's opening score, per the NFL:
The Packers' early performance was one of missed opportunities. A rare missed field goal from Mason Crosby capped the first of many drives that ended in scoreless frustration, and the Packers' next possession ended when Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins ripped the football from fullback Aaron Ripkowski and recovered the fumble, per the NFL:
The Falcons also made another nice defensive play in the first half when free safety Ricardo Allen intercepted this massive Rodgers heave intended for wideout Jordy Nelson:
The Packers' injury-ravaged secondary had immense trouble keeping up with the Falcons' myriad weapons on the day. If it took away Jones, Sanu popped open. If the flanks were covered, well, then Freeman or Coleman could pop out from the backfield for a checkdown throw or grind out a few tough carries.
Still, it was Jones who made the most impressive plays on the day, many of them by making use of his sublime body control. While he did a fine job getting his feet down on a touchdown catch in the second quarter to put the Falcons up 24-0, it was his excellent sideline toe drag on an earlier possession that set the tone for the day, per the NFL:
So much for that toe injury.
While grace is a signature of Jones' game, he's also an immensely powerful wideout. His combination of strength and speed was on full display just after the halftime break, as Ryan hit him perfectly in stride on a post route, and the Alabama product took care of the rest:
“He never ceases to surprise us because he makes the extraordinary plays seem ordinary,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said following the game, per Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper. “That’s not a very typical thing to do. He’s a heckuva competitor.”
Jones was the best player to watch on the field Sunday (apologies to Ryan), and after scoring twice, he provided another brilliant highlight with this leaping, acrobatic, in-traffic grab in the third quarter, per the NFL:
There wasn't much in this for the Packers, but they didn't leave the game without any highlights of their own. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson was a source of inspiration playing with fractured ribs.
He finished the game with six receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown, which came late in the third quarter and gave Green Bay the faintest glimmer of hope with the score 37-15 after the two-point conversion, per the NFL:
Rodgers didn't have his best stuff on Sunday, but he accounted for all of the Packers' points. Here he is floating a pretty pass to tight end Jared Cook, his favorite target on the day, for a late consolation touchdown, per the NFL:
It was much too little, much too late, and the Falcons would cruise to the end of the game.
The Falcons will meet Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Patriots thrashed the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 in the AFC Championship Game, making it a championship Sunday almost completely bereft of drama.
Fans should expect a better show in the Super Bowl, as these two high-powered offenses clash in a battle for NFL supremacy.