Atlanta Falcons Flex Playoff Experience in Win Over Young Rams

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After regression in the regular season led to a Wild Card finish in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons put aside the past with the first step to Super Bowl redemption on Saturday night with a win over the young Los Angeles Rams.

In a battle between the 10-6 Falcons and the favored NFC West champion Rams, field goals from Matt Bryant and a stout defensive performance that frustrated young quarterback Jared Goff were the difference in a low scoring playoff affair.

The Rams struggled on offense all night, mostly doomed by the early miscues of their Pro Bowl return as Pharoh Cooper’s two turnovers gave the Falcons early command the young Rams could never recover from.

Cooper muffed a punt that bounced off teammate Blake Countess to lead to his first turnover and the Falcons first points as the fumble led to a Matt Bryant field goal.

To make matters worse, Cooper would then be stripped on a kickoff return later in the first half by Damontae Kazee to give the Falcons the ball on the Rams 32-yard-line. With the ball deep inside Rams territory, Matt Ryan and the poised Falcons offense would make no mistake and finished the drive with a touchdown to take full control of the game.

With the early lead thanks to the errors of Cooper in the return game, the experienced Falcons would show their guile in a masterful performance to retain their advantage on the scoreboard and keep the upstart Rams at bay.

Guided by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian in his return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after a turbulent tenure as the head coach of USC, the Falcons offense controlled the pace of play against the Rams.

Despite the lack of touchdown drives, the Falcons chewed the clock and kept Goff and Gurley off the field to protect their early lead. A drive that consumed 8:15 of clock time opened the second half for the Falcons and proved to be key in a game where the Rams simply ran out of time before Goff could get it truly going on offense.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons offense again showed up. Just as the Rams appeared to be making things interesting with the score at 19-13, Ryan found Mohamed Sanu on a perfectly timed screen pass for 52 yards to break the game back open.

Ryan would finish the drive with a touchdown pass to Julio Jones – Jones sixth career playoff touchdown – to put the Falcons back up two scores and clinch a game where the experience of a proven Falcons team trumped homefield advantage and the young talent of a promising Rams team.

Rams head coach Sean McVay alluded to the disparity in playoff experiences between his team and the Falcons in his postgame press conference.

”You see why the Falcons are the defending NFC champs,” McVay said, per the Associated Press. ”Certainly this is a humbling game. … This is an experience that we can learn from. But I don’t think this game was too big for our guys.”

McVay and the Rams will feel the pain of their first playoff defeat and know that it is highly likely they will be back here again. McVay is 31 and has a very young nucleus in a division where his two biggest rivals in the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals are aging to bolster the chances of further playoff opportunities down the road.

The silver lining in the Rams defeat will be the fact that some of their young players managed to shine under the bright lights of the playoffs, albeit in a losing effort. Todd Gurley broke 100 yards in an adequate performance compared to his lofty standards while rookie wideout Cooper Kupp scored the lone Rams touchdown to finish a promising debut season to showcase just how bright the future is in Los Angeles going forward.

As for the Falcons and the here and now, with a fresh playoff success under their belt the road to Super Bowl redemption now travels to Philadelphia. Where the Falcons opened as -2.5 Vegas favorites over a Philadelphia Eagles team that will be without MVP candidate Carson Wentz at quarterback and will be stuck with the dreadful Nick Foles next weekend.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons deserve to be favored against the Eagles in the Divisional Playoff when you consider the same factors will be at play next week. The Falcons hold the experience edge over the unproven Eagles before you even consider the disparity in the quarterback matchup between Nick Foles and a motivated Matt Ryan.

At the present juncture, things certainly appear to be aligning for the Falcons to put their Super Bowl collapse from last year behind them and make another run at an NFC title. With just Nick Foles between them and a spot in the NFC Championship Game, the battle-tested and motivated Falcons now have to feel good about their chances of setting up a potential second chapter in the Super Bowl.