ATLANTA — Matt Ryan probably missed much of the talk this past week about his lack of playoff success. He knew his 1–4 postseason record, and he politely answered questions about it in the days leading up to Saturday’s divisional round matchup with Seattle. But he’s too pragmatic to let it dominate his thoughts.
He’s also not the kind of guy who gets sentimental with game memorabilia. In a 36–20 throttling of the Seahawks, Ryan took three victory knees and lifted the game ball in the air for the Georgia Dome crowd. Less than an hour later, he had no idea where the ball from his second postseason win had went, and he didn’t care.
Asked to reflect on whether this was the high point of his nine-year career, Ryan couldn’t say. But those M-V-P chants that rained in the Dome in what may be this stadium’s last NFL game? Those mattered.
“It was pretty cool considering the circumstances with the game in hand,” Ryan said. “That place, from the opening kickoff, the Dome was rocking. That’s got to be as loud as it’s ever been in here. It was a great environment to play in today.”
The likely NFL MVP, Ryan passed for 338 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions as he continued to shine in Kyle Shanahan’s dynamic offense. (The five teams that have passed on Atlanta’s offensive coordinator for another head coach candidate this month may look back on Saturday’s dismantling of Seattle’s defense and shake their heads.) What defense remaining in the playoffs can stop this offense?
Ryan’s day began with feeding Julio Jones early. The biggest matchup going into the game was Jones against Richard Sherman, who got away with pass interference at the end of Seattle’s Week 6 win against Atlanta. Jones cooked Sherman for two early first downs and finished with 67 receiving yards and a touchdown.
That matchup didn’t deliver much past the first quarter, though. Jones was bothered by a foot injury he’s dealt with for weeks and eventually left the game. He didn’t speak to media after the game, but the injury will no doubt be one of the Falcons’ biggest concerns going into championship weekend.
Atlanta was the better team going into and coming out of Saturday night, but the game could have gone very differently if not for one play in the second quarter. With 10 minutes left in the first half and the Seahawks enjoying a 10–7 lead, Devin Hester returned a punt 80 yards to the Atlanta seven-yard line, but Kevin Pierre-Louis was flagged for holding at the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks went from the Atlanta seven to their own seven, and two plays later Russell Wilson tripped into the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing possession, the Falcons kicked a go-ahead field goal and never relinquished the lead, scoring 19 unanswered points to ensure Falcons-Seahawks would be the fifth consecutive noncompetitive game of the postseason.
With back-to-back divisional round exits, the Seahawks’ empire seems to be crumbling. A healthy Earl Thomas would have helped (the defense didn’t get an interception for the rest of the season after its star safety broke his leg) but wouldn’t have saved the Seahawks, who will be shopping both in free agency and in the draft for offensive linemen.
Wilson only completed 17 passes and had two touchdowns to two interceptions, including one ill-advised third-and-long throw that Ricardo Allen returned 45 yards to Seattle territory. He is now 0–2 as a starter in playoff games attended by the rapper Future, who is the father of Wilson’s stepson. An Atlanta native, Future was on the sideline before the game as a guest of Jones, according to team sources. Future was also in Charlotte for Seattle’s divisional round loss to the Panthers last year.
In between the lines, the game saw its garden-variety postseason chippiness. At one point, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett had to be restrained by Kam Chancellor from going after Falcons tackle Ryan Schrader, who put his hands up and walked away. In the third quarter, Ryan huddled offensive players on the sideline to make sure they stayed focused on winning rather than instigating a fight or retaliating.
“I don’t know, man. They kept going after the whistle,” Schrader said. “We do it between the whistle and they were doing extra stuff. It was no big deal.”
Sporting the best offense in football, the Falcons are a game away from the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance. Ryan shook off some of his postseason ghosts Saturday, but not all. The NFC title game loss to the 49ers in the Georgia Dome four years ago still lingers, and he can exorcise those demons next Sunday with a win at home against the Packers or on the road in Dallas.
Which does he prefer?
“Doesn’t matter to me,” Ryan said.
Of course it doesn’t.