The Falcons-Packers NFC championship game was supposed to be a back-and-forth shootout. Instead, this was the most dramatic thing that happened:
Robert Alford’s flop wasn’t dramatic because the game was up for grabs — Atlanta was ahead by 29 points in the fourth quarter when it happened — but because his attempt to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Aaron Rodgers was the definition of drama. The outstretched arms, the stunned facial expression, the prolonged fall that should have given an NFL cornerback whose livelihood depends on exceptional balance plenty of time to catch himself — it deserves a Golden Globe, at least.
Atlanta was never particularly bothered by Green Bay in a 44–21 rout, scoring the game’s first 31 points before relenting for jokes like Alford’s flop. Matt Ryan passed for 392 yards with four touchdowns and scored his first rushing touchdown since 2012. Julio Jones racked up 180 receiving yards and did some very, very mean things to Packers defenders who just wanted to live. Rodgers had defied reason for the latter part of this season with his absurd play in a string of eight straight Packers victories; the Falcons calmly shut him down until it was too late to mount a comeback.
This was the last Falcons game in the Georgia Dome — it came with a halftime concert by Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris, and Young Jeezy, as is only right. It was also the first time they clinched a Super Bowl berth in the building — in 1998, the only other time that the 51-year-old franchise went to the sport’s biggest stage, it won the NFC championship on the road at Minnesota.
“The Atlanta Falcons are going to the Super Bowl” is not a sentence I’m used to saying, much like “Rae Sremmurd had the no. 1 song in the country” and “Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” I was aware that all of these things were technically possible, but I never truly believed that any of them would happen.
And yet, the way the Falcons’ win happened was something we could’ve expected. Atlanta had the best offense in football all season. It led the league with an average of 33.8 points per game; nobody else cleared 30. This was its sixth 40-point performance of the season, and its fourth 500-yard outing. The Falcons weren’t just prolific, but also efficient, becoming the first team to average 6.7 yards per play since the 2000 Rams.
Ryan doesn’t get credit as an NFL superstar — perhaps because he’s never won a Super Bowl, perhaps because he doesn’t have a persona that leads advertising campaigns, perhaps because his name is “Matt Ryan” — but Sunday reinforced something we already knew: that he was the best quarterback in football this season. Jones is a superhero, and has been since he was a freshman in college. The Falcons defense is far from the best unit in the NFL, but it’s still really freakin’ fast, and was more than enough to stump a dude who pulled rabbits out of the helmets of every other NFL team he faced down the stretch.
It might sound weird to say “The Atlanta Falcons are in the Super Bowl,” but we’d better get used to it. And the weirdest part about it is they absolutely belong.