PHILADELPHIA – Two yards.
That's how close the Falcons came to returning to the NFC title game. But it wasn't meant to be, as Matt Ryan's pass on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line sailed high through Julio Jones' hands in the right corner of the end zone.
The Eagles took over and ran out the clock to win 15-10. Philadelphia, the top seed in the NFC, advances and will host the winner of the Saints-Vikings game Sunday in Minneapolis. The sixth-seeded Falcons finish the year with an 11-7 record.
'Right players in mind' on fourth-down call
On a fourth-and-2 call with just over a minute remaining in a 10-15 divisional round game against the Eagles the Falcons called a play for their two best players: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, the play was unsuccessful. But head coach Dan Quinn did not regret the choice to put the game in the hands of his top playmakers.
"Damn right," Quinn said after the game when asked if he felt confident in Ryan on that fourth down. "Yeah, absolutely. We're giving our shots to Matt and Julio to go for it to win the game. We didn't get the job done, but 100 out of 100 we're going to try to put the ball in those two guys' hands to try to go win it."
It appeared as though Jones was running a comeback route to the right sideline, but he slipped coming out of his break, leaving Ryan to look for a second option.
"It just didn't work out," Ryan said of the final play during his post-game press conference, "and that's disappointing. That's the life that you kind of live as a competitor. When you get in those situations, you want the ball in your hands. We're disappointed that we didn't make the play, but I thought it was a good call. It felt like we had the right players in mind at the right time, and we just fell a little bit short."
Tough sledding on first down for the Falcons
In the second half, the Falcons had a tough time getting ahead in down and distance. Atlanta ran 11 first-down plays for just 20 yards, an average of 1.8 yards.
Seven of the Falcons' 11 first-down plays were runs, and they had a tough time gaining anything against a stout Eagles defense. Five of those seven runs went for 2 yards or less, highlighting just how little room the Falcons had to run on Saturday night. Entering the game, Quinn spoke of the importance of remaining balanced on offense, and the Falcons are at their best when the run can set up the play-action pass.
Eagles string together long second-half drives
Trailing by a point at halftime, the Eagles put together a pair long drives to wrestle the lead away from the Falcons. The first was a 12-play, 74-yard drive ending with a 37-yard field goal to make it 12-10 in favor of the Eagles.
The latter was a 14-play, 80-yard drive capped with a 21-yard field goal by kicker Jake Elliott to increase Philadelphia's lead to 15-10, which proved to be the final score.
Falcons cash in on early turnovers
The Eagles opened the game with a deep pass from Nick Foles to Torrey Smith, drawing a pass interference call and picking up 42 yards in the process. But on the very next play, Eagles running back Jay Ajayi was the recipient of a big Ricardo Allen hit and fumbled. Safety Keanu Neal recovered on the Atlanta 26-yard line.
The Falcons put together an 11-play drive that eventually stalled at the Eagles' 15-yard line. That's when Matt Bryant's number was called and, as he has all season long, the Falcons' veteran kicker booted a 33-yard field goal to give Atlanta the early 3-0 lead.
Then, midway through the second quarter, the Falcons took advantage of another Eagles mistake when linebacker LaRoy Reynolds recovered a muffed punt return on the Eagles 18-yard line.
Four plays later, Matt Ryan connected with Devonta Freeman for a 6-yard line touchdown to make it 10-6 after Bryant's successful point after. Ryan somehow kept his balance before taking a big hit as he unloaded the pass, which was the 20th postseason touchdown pass of his career.
During the wild-card win over the Rams, the Falcons took advantage of some of early miscues by Los Angeles on special teams to take an early lead in that game as well.
Recap Saturday's game with the in-game blog
We provided live updates and analysis during Saturday's divisional-round playoff game against the Eagles as well as highlights, stats and additional insights. You can recap all the action below.