As crazy as it sounds, the Atlanta Falcons, a team that was in so much disarray last season its own coach quit on them with three games left in the season, are going to the NFC Playoffs. Yes, the Falcons, thanks to a gutsy 24-17 victory in frosty Minnesota on Sunday, have landed one of the two NFC wild card spots, moving to 10-5 on the season.
Matt Ryan, a rookie who has played well beyond his years, threw for a TD and didn’t make any big mistakes, and Michael Turner ran for 70 yards and a score as the Falcons took care of business in a place most remembered for one of if not their greatest all-time win – a win in the NFC Title game back in 1998.
Sunday didn’t mean as much, but it possibly could have for a team that was 4-12 a season ago, and looked like as they headed into the season was going to be hard pressed to win more than 4-5 games. Instead, they have used Turner’s punishing running style, an aggressive defense that loves to play takeaway, and the youth and strong play of Ryan to turn into a legit NFC contender.
The defense held last weeks NFC offensive player of the week – Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson, in check, as he was 22-for-36 for 233 yards with two scores, but was not nearly as effective as a week ago in Arizona. The big number was the Falcons D holding MVP candidate Adrian Peterson to just 76 yards on 22 carries. He also fumbled once, which the Falcons pounced on.
Overall, the Falcons forced a whopping 7 Vikings fumbles, and they walked out recovering four of them. Ryan was 13-for-24 for 134 yards with a TD. The Falcons jumped out 7-0 at the 8:47 mark of the first quarter on a Turner score, then after the Vikings tied it, Ryan hitJerious Norwood for an 8-yard score to make it 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Jason Elam kicked a 22-yard field goal to make it 17-7 at the half, then Ryan took the ball to the goal line, fumbled, but it was recovered by Justin Blalock for a TD at the 2:38 mark of the 3rd quarter to make it 24-7. Never hurts to be lucky. The Vikings scored 10 fourth quarter points, but the Falcons D held on a 4th-and-15 from the Vikings 40 as Jackson’s pass was incomplete, securing the win.
The now 10-5 Falcons will wrap up the season at home vs the awful Rams at home next week. The Vikings with still a shot to win the NFC North, will play the Giants at home. The Giants are now the #1 seed in the NFC, and can rest players if it chooses to do so with nothing to gain with a win or loss.