After both teams traded clinical opening-drive touchdowns that spilled over to the second quarter, a holding penalty on special teamer Kevin Pierre-Louis swung the game in Atlanta’s favor. Devin Hester’s 80-yard punt return would have set the Seahawks up at the seven-yard line with a chance to take a commanding 17-7 lead. Instead, Seattle lost 84 yards of field position, ultimately leading to a safety when defensive tackle Ben Garland fell on a tripped Russell Wilson in the end zone. The Falcons quickly answered with a field goal and a 99-yard touchdown drive to close out the half.
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Coach Dan Quinn was vindicated in his decision to defer upon winning the coin toss, as Ryan led yet another lengthy touchdown drive to open the third quarter — turning a 10-7 deficit into a 26-10 lead before Pete Carroll knew what hit him.
Mistakes aside, Atlanta jerseys were the superior team, winning up front on both sides of the ball. MVP favorite Ryan directed touchdown drives of 99, 75, 75 and 54 yards, hitting eight different targets for a 125.7 passer rating against a Seahawks secondary that lost cornerback DeShawn Shead jersey in addition to the absence of All Pro safety Earl Thomas. The Falcons now boast 11 scoring drives started inside their own 10-yard line, five more than any other team’s wholesale NFL jerseys in the league this season. Ryan has orchestrated opening-drive touchdowns in seven consecutive games, the longest streak since the 1970 merger. With a dialed-in Kyle Shanahan calling the plays, Ryan distributing like an all-world point guard, Julio Jones leading the NFL’s deepest receiving corps and the Devonta Freeman-Tevin Coleman tandem giving linebackers fits, the Falcons offense is the class of the playoff field.
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On the flip side, Atlanta’s pass defense might just be the biggest postseason weakness — pending the outcome of Brock Osweiler’s offense in New England on Saturday night. Quinn’s unit deserves credit for generating consistent heat and forcing turnovers, but that’s par for the course against Wilson’s offense that is too often stifled outside of Seattle. The Falcons’ red-zone defense is the worst in the league, allowing a touchdown 73 percent of the time in the regular season. Every team remaining can throw on Atlanta’s cornerbacks, as Wilson did in the first half of Saturday’s tilt. This defense is built to play with a lead, so it’s vital that Ryan stays white hot against the winner of the Cowboys-Packers clash.
Seahawks first-round guard Germain Ifedi has been a liability at times this season, but his early game ankle injury was a significant factor in Atlanta’s favor. Rookie backup Rees Odhiambo jersey allowed a Brooks Reed sack on first down in the red zone to thwart one drive and stepped on Russell Wilson’s foot to cause the safety. The offensive line was the primary culprit in Seattle’s disappointing road performance all season. It’s a unit in need of an overhaul this offseason.
One position the Seahawks can afford to neglect in the next draft: wide receiver. Paul Richardson has exceeded expectations as Tyler Lockett’s stand-in, providing a running loop of highlight-reel catches in the past two weeks. He was stellar again on Saturday, hauling in four passes for 83 yards on five targets. His only miss was a spectacular diving effort versus double coverage on a 58-yard bomb that was overturned on replay review. Once Lockett returns to full health, Wilson should have the best wide receiver corps of his career in 2017.
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Julio Jones won his battle with Richard Sherman in the first half, but suffered a foot injury late in the second quarter. He returned to convert a third down in the third quarter, only to spend the majority of the final frame on the sideline while the Falcons sat on a commanding lead. Quinn stated after the game that there is no real concern, as Jones could have returned with cheap sports jerseys if necessary.
The team will continue to evaluate Jones as the week wears on. His status for Sunday’s tilt versus the San Francisco 49ers remains up in the air, but Quinn was optimistic about future weeks.
“We’ll get him back here shortly,” Quinn said of Jones, via ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. “Good news it’s not a long-term thing.”
On the bright side for MVP candidate Matt Ryan jersey, Mohamed Sanu returned to practice after missing last week’s win with a groin injury.
“Mind-boggling,” Freeney told WXIN-TV in Indianapolis. “Mind-boggling. We had our opportunities. We basically shut ’em out in the first half. If we make just one more play in the second half, it’s a different story.”
He added: “It’s tough to put into words just how bad you feel after a game like this. I’ve been on both sides, so I know.”
But the perspective gained by age — and winning and losing Super Bowls before this — didn’t seem like enough to help Freeney explain away what happened on Sunday. In a conversation with NFL Network’s James Palmer, he was not quite ready to talk about the future of cheap jerseys and whether he would try to come back for a 16th NFL season.
He said the decision to return next season would not be emotional, but after Sunday how could it not be? Players with a mean competitive streak would keep coming back into their 40s to erase a memory like the one provided by the Patriots. Although sometimes, it’s better to let the mind-boggling stay that way.