We offer this contrast: Pinned to their goal line, the Seahawks gave the Falcons two points that became five; pinned to theirs, the Falcons moved 99 yards in nine plays without facing a third down. Ryan completed seven of nine passes. When the inevitable touchdown came, it was scored by Tevin Coleman, whom the Seahawks neglected to cover. Remember the Falcons’ raging third quarter in Seattle in October? That was basically this entire game.
Ahead 19-10, the Falcons took the ball to start the third quarter. Here we essentially saw the proud Seattle defense surrender. The Falcons faced third-and-8. Jones aligned himself wide right. Then he shifted into the slot. Sherman went with him, though it hardly mattered. Ryan found Julio for the first down, leaving Sherman fuming yet again.
Three plays later it was third-and-10, and the Seahawks bore down on Ryan. Again, it mattered not. Hit as he delivered, he still found Taylor Gabriel for a back-shoulder catch. Another conversion, the ball across midfield now. And here we saw why Kyle Shanahan is the hottest play-caller alive.
Having turned Seattle’s Legion of Boom — admittedly without free safety Earl Thomas coming in, and by now without cornerback DeShawn Shead — inside out, Shanahan chose to … run the ball! Six of the next seven plays were rushes. They gained 15, 7, 6, 7 and 6 yards. Finally Devonta Freeman scored from 1. The Seahawks, who blunted the Falcons early and late three months ago, hadn’t laid a glove on them this time.
That tells us something about Seattle, but far more about the Falcons. They were a good offense all along, but they’ve become one of the NFL’s all-time finest. And for those who point to total yardage as reason to believe this defense is a swinging gate, note that the Seahawks scored a touchdown on their opening drive and not again until 3:21 remained. “They settled back in and made more plays and tackled better,” Quinn said.
Inside the final nine minutes, the Seahawks trailed by 16 and still had a theoretical chance. They had it until Jonathan Babineaux sacked Wilson on second down and the Falcons brought heavy pressure on third-and-16, forcing him to dodge hither and yon before throwing downfield, which he did badly. Safety Ricardo Allen snagged the gift and returned it to the Seattle 46. The clinching touchdown — Ryan to a soaring Mohamed Sanu — was forthcoming.
Don’t misunderstand. The Falcons won’t Steel-Curtain their way to the Lombardi Trophy. But this defense is fast enough and bold enough to hold up its end, and this offense doesn’t need much help. Put it this way: If the Seahawks had somehow scored 35 points Saturday, the Falcons would have gotten 36. When they have the ball, this team truly is something to behold.
And now, not to go all Belichick here, it’s on to the NFC Championship game for the fourth time in franchise annals. It doesn’t matter who the Falcons play, or where. This offense will travel. This team will, too. This team is really good.