Offense Responds Early: After the Seahawks ate 8:34 of clock and scored a touchdown on their opening drive, the Falcons quickly responded when Julio Jones caught a seven-yard TD pass on the ensuing possession. That score marked the seventh-straight game Atlanta earned a touchdown on its opening drive, which, according to NFL Research, is the longest streak since at least 2000. (The previous long was set by the 2003 Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVIII.)
Shortly thereafter, with the game tied at seven in the second quarter, the Seahawks put themselves in prime position to take the lead when Devin Hester composed an 80-yard punt return down to Atlanta's seven. But a holding penalty that occurred near the beginning of the return moved Seattle back to its own 13 — an 86-yard swing. Atlanta added a field goal on its next drive; after forcing Seattle to punt, Ryan marched the Falcons 99 yards downfield and added six points when he fired a TD pass to Tevin Coleman.
"We just converted a few third downs, ran the ball well. That drive was kind of a synopsis of what we did the entire day. We executed really well," Ryan said.
Ryan Spreads the Wealth, Again: Atlanta's passing attack looked just like it did in the regular season: efficient, versatile, explosive. In total, Ryan completed a pass to eight targets, and a quartet of Falcons — Freeman (80), Gabriel (71), Jones (64), Sanu (44) — surpassed 40 receiving yards.
Ryan turned in another impressive outing, completing 26 of 37 passes for 338 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That performance made him the only QB to throw for 300-plus yards, three-plus TDs and zero INTs against Seattle during the Pete Carroll era.
What's more, the 36 points Atlanta tallied are the most anyone has scored against the Carroll-led Seahawks in a playoff game.
"In particular, he just had a terrific week, Matt did," head coach Dan Quinn said. "I felt the energy from the receivers right from the beginning from our warm up today. I thought they looked great. For Matt and his preparation, he stayed on exactly the same path that he had been on during the regular season. … He was on like he has been the entire year."
RB Duo Dominates: Last week, Seahawks LB K.J. Wright said Freeman and Coleman "might be the best 1-2 running back combo I've played probably in my career." The talented duo lived up to that compliment Saturday, combining for 204 yards from scrimmage — 102 on the ground, 102 through the air — and scoring one touchdown apiece.
"I thought it was huge," Ryan said about the run success. "In the second half, our offensive line really got it going, and our running backs were able to get in there behind them and run effectively and physically. Our guys were physical the entire day. Across the board, to give credit to our offensive line, they really got it going."
Defense Steps Up: Atlanta won the turnover battle thanks to interceptions by Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones, the latter of which all but sealed the win. The run defense was stout, too, as Thomas Rawls, who gashed Detroit last week, gained just 34 yards on 11 carries. According to Quinn, the key to slowing down Rawls was strong tackling.
"I think just tackling. That was the main thing for us heading into this game. He's an excellent runner that runs tough, gets yards after contact. ... When we went into this game, that was our emphasis."
Some of the best tackles were made by Atlanta's young players, including Brian Poole and Keanu Neal. One of the talking points heading into the weekend was the youth on Atlanta's defense — four starters are rookies, three are second-year pros — and, as they showed by holding Seattle to 309 yards from scrimmage, that inexperience wasn't an issue as some predicted.
"The thing I think that separates us is, we may be young, but we don't act like it. I feel like all of us are very mature beyond our years," De'Vondre Campbell said. "This game was really about coming in and earning respect, because, like you said, we have a young defense, so a lot of people just thought, 'Seattle, they have the playoff experience, maybe that can play a factor.' All of us young guys came in with a chip on our shoulder. We're out here for respect, we're out here to prove to people that we can play."
Atlanta Finishes Strong: Quinn has preached the importance of finishing since his first day in charge, and during the biggest game of his tenure, the Falcons made sure to keep their foot on the gas. Seattle scored with 3:29 left in regulation, but Sanu recovered an onside kick, and shortly thereafter, Deion Jones reeled in his interception.
"That's what we've been working on," Ricardo Allen said about closing out games. "It took some time where we knew it was going to take some time because it is a process, but yes, that's the same thing we do since he got here. It's the same things he's been preaching the whole time. It's starting to come together."