January 22, 2017 was the last game the Atlanta Falcons would play at the Georgia Dome. They made sure that it was one that the fans or they would never forget. It was the NFC Championship game verse the Green Bay Packers. Before Aaron Rodgers and the Packers could properly warmup, the Falcons were up 24-0. Super Bowl 50 was in reach, and the Falcons proceeded to expand on that halftime score. They won 44-21 and MVP Matt Ryan was stellar. He was 27 of 39 in passing with four touchdowns while running for 23 yards and a touchdown. I’ll spare you the details of Super Bowl 50, but this season would be a new beginning. The first home game would not be against the New England Patriots in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It wouldn’t feature the very first NFL game of the season on Thursday night football. It wouldn’t feature a banner and ring ceremony. Instead it would be a rematch for the NFC Championship game in the new stadium.
The Packers came in town September 17th looking for revenge from last year. This game would have playoff implications for home field advantage. The roof was open for a Sunday night football game that had the entire country wondering about that Super Bowl hangover. Many wondered if they had truly found the right offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian. The Falcons proved that there was no hangover or lingering effects. They proved that Kyle, what’s his name again, was a coordinator of the past. It began with the play calling on the opening drive. On the nine play drive, Sarkisian dialed up six running plays and three pass plays. The Falcons drove down the field with precision for 86 yards and capped it off with a Devonta Freeman 1-yard touchdown run. The Packers responded with a 75-yard drive themselves. Their running back, Ty Montgomery, capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run. It seemed like it was going to be a shootout. Then the Falcons rattled off 10 unanswered points. The second of Freeman’s touchdowns on the night was from 2-yards out this time. The Packers wanted to end the first half with a score but the defense wanted in on the action. Desmond Trufant intercepted Rodgers at their 36 yard line. Ryan went right to work with a 21-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu, then a 3-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman. The pendulum had swung all the way to the Falcons side. Both sides of the ball where playing well and they had a 24-7 lead.
To begin the second half, the questions of “28-3” were in the back of everyone’s head. If the Falcons learned anything, it was to keep the foot on the gas. On the second play of the half, Vic Beasley Jr. sacked Rodgers that led to an alert Trufant picking the fumble up and scoring a touchdown. From that point on, the Falcons played great situational football. They ran the ball effectively and passed when necessary. This time, the passes were not long five or seven-step drops but short and quick ones. A lot of that balanced attack was thanks to Freeman and Coleman. Freeman rushed the ball 19 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns while catching two passes for 16 yards. Coleman rushed the ball six times for 42 yards while catching two passes for three yards and a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the Packers put up 13 points to make the final score look better than what it was. The defense finished the game with three sacks and two turnovers. The Falcons won a convincing 34-23 game.
The offense scored on five of their seven possessions, which is why head coach Dan Quinn was pleased. He said, “What we really wanted to emphasize was our execution. We thought the effort was on point, but there was a play here or a play there where it just wasn’t crisp and detailed enough where we missed some. We knew the effort and strain would be there, but could we take our execution up a notch? We really had that as part of our preparation. When we go through the week, we prepare a lot for the opponent and so much of it comes right back to us. That’s really the emphasis that we had. Although we knew Green Bay and the tough opponent they are, it was still going to come back to us and our style, attitude and how we played. We’re pleased to see that kind of execution tonight.”
The Falcons have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. The Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have huge questions on whether they will be NFC champs. Either it’s a question of the offensive line, defensive line, quarterback, special teams, or playoff experience. The Falcons are the one team that seem to have the total package with no glaring issues. They are also on a mission to right the wrongs from last year. With a new stadium to call home as well, they put the league on notice that the Falcon will be landing.