Matt Ryan ran out of miracle comebacks in his bag, and although the Atlanta Falcons came close, once again they’ll have to swallow playoff disappointment. The San Francisco 49ers pulled out a nail-biter in the Georgia Dome to win the NFC Championship 28-24.
Anyone who said the Falcons didn’t stand a chance against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game had it all wrong. It was the visiting 49ers who had to make a comeback from being down 17 points, and were just ten yards away from being sent home for the second straight year.
In the end, Ryan–playing on an obviously injured left shoulder–just couldn’t quite finish the job. A third down pass batted down at the line, and a fourth down pass broken up at the point of reception all but finished the Falcons dreams of moving on to New Orleans.
Although the game was nearly without controversy, it wouldn’t be a league championship game if there weren’t something to jaw about at the water cooler, and on the drive mentioned above, the officials gave us just that. As Atlanta WR Roddy White broke out of his route to cut across, he was contacted and blatantly held by the defender.
The defensive holding penalty, which brings an automatic first down, would have given the Falcons a 1st-and-goal inside the 10 yard line, and could have brought about a different ending to the game.
For the pundits who will say that Atlanta choked and failed to show up in the second half again, the spin needs to be taken differently. The San Francisco defense was uncharacteristically manhandled by Atlanta in the first half, and the adjustments that were made for the second half were just enough to keep Atlanta off the scoreboard.
While Atlanta has ultimately come up short again, they can hold their heads high. Unlike past seasons where their ability to hang with the top-tier teams in the league was questioned, and Matt Ryan’s inability to transfer regular season success to the postseason was constantly pointed out, this year Atlanta stood tall.
In this year’s playoffs, the Falcons took down a very tough Seattle Seahawks team, and took the favored 49ers to the limit. Matt Ryan was the big hero in the Seattle game, and against the 49ers he posted huge numbers (30-42, 396 yds, 3 TD, 114.8 QB rating) against one of the best defenses in the league.
The questions surrounding Atlanta’s legitimacy need to cease, and this team should go into the off-season proud of what they have accomplished and look ahead to moving forward next season.