FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – In a hard-fought game against the top-seeded Eagles, the Falcons' season came to an end on fourth down at the goal line. In a year in which perhaps no team was under more scrutiny than the Falcons, they managed to become the only NFC team to make a return trip to the postseason – the second playoff trip in three years under head coach Dan Quinn.
Today's Early Bird Report includes reactions from the Falcons' divisional round loss to the Eagles as well as a stunning end to the Saints' season.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
*Sports Illustrated: *Eagles' O-line, pass rush excel in win over Falcons
In the week leading up to Saturday's divisional round matchup, Quinn expressed his belief that the game may be determined at the line of scrimmage. Philadelphia's strengths were on the offensive and defensive lines, and they showed in its victory over Atlanta. Both units were mentioned by Robert Klemko in his thoughts on the game for MMQB.
He begins by noting that Eagles quarterback Nick Foles deserves credit for his efficient performance, but the driving force behind the offensive was the offensive line. Defensively, he notes that Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz put on a coaching showcase.
When he gets to his thoughts on the Falcons, this is what Klemko had to say:
"Steve Sarkisian has absorbed a ton of criticism over the course of the season as the Falcons have fallen short of 2016 production levels, but it was painfully obvious that Atlanta doesn't have the offensive personnel to deal with disruptive defensive line presences like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. A passing game filled with laterals and short throws put the Falcons in position to win on a fourth-quarter drive that fell short inside the five-yard line, but this offensive performance was a continuation of the disjointed play we've come to expect from Sarkisian's unit in 2017. Atlanta made surprisingly little use of tight end Austin Hooper (one catch for 3 yards) and Taylor Gabriel (two catches for 4 yards), who should have been viable short and intermediate passing options against an overwhelming pass rush."
*USA TODAY: *Eagles, Falcons may find their seasons defined by same play
The Falcons' final offensive play in Saturday's game may end up defining the seasons of the two teams involved. At least, that's the point Jarrett Bell makes in his piece for *USA TODAY. *Although they were the NFC's No. 1 seed, many viewed the Eagles as the underdogs entering the game. They made a statement on their fourth-down stop and could ride that momentum into next week's NFC title game. For Atlanta, Bell writes that it was another missed opportunity for the defending NFC champs.
"It goes into the books as a 15-10 victory that eliminated Atlanta, defending NFC champs," Bell writes. "But it was just as much of a gut-check for a team that earned the No. 1 seed but was still considered an underdog on its own turf amid the myriad injuries. It was a moment to exhale for the rabid, faithful and nervous Philly fans who have grown accustomed to postseason heartbreak."
Here are some more stories on the Falcons:
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*USA TODAY: *Vikings stun Saints with last-second TD
As the final seconds ticked away in Minnesota, it seemed as though the Saints would emerge with an improbable road victory over the two-seeded Vikings. Then, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum found receiver Stefon Diggs down the right sideline, who evaded his defender, stayed in bounds and sprinted into the end zone as time expired.
In the span of several seconds, a Minnesota Miracle ended the Saints' season.
The Vikings dominated throughout the first half, shutting out the Saints and taking a 17-0 lead into halftime. In the second half, however, the script flipped. New Orleans scored 14 straight points before a Vikings' field goal made the score 20-14 in the fourth quarter. Once rookie running back Alvin Kamara gave the Saints their first lead with a 14-yard touchdown catch, craziness ensued.
That score, which gave New Orleans a 21-20 lead over Minnesota, marked the first of four lead changes over the final three minutes and one second. Following the Saints' touchdown, The Vikings kicked a field goal to give them a 23-21 lead. The Saints appeared to hit the game-winning field goal with just over 20 seconds remaining, but we know what happened next.
Here are some more articles from around the division:
- ESPN: Saints' incredible season ends with stunning heartbreak
- *Charlotte Observer: *[Thomas Davis says 2018 season will be his last](https://www.google.com/search?q=carolina panthers&rlz=1C1GGRVenUS754US754&source=lnms&tbm=nws&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj99JS99NjYAhWkmOAKHfAEA-QQAUICigB&biw=1280&bih=590)
- *Tampa Bay Times: *What playoff teams have that Bucs don't
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