Falcons, Patriots Advance to Super Bowl LI
CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 1/23/2017, 8:18 a.m.
By Jill Martin
ATLANTA (CNN) -- The Atlanta Falcons spent 25 years playing in the Georgia Dome, and they saved their best for last.
Led by a four-touchdown passing performance by Matt Ryan, the Falcons ended their tenure in this stadium with their biggest home win in franchise history, routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LI.
"For the fans, for this city and for the teams that rocked this place for 25 years, we felt your energy from the very beginning," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "So it's only fitting, at the NFC Championship Game, the last game played here, we felt that too."
It will be the Falcons' second Super Bowl appearance. The last time came in the 1998 season, when Atlanta lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Their opponent is one very familiar with winning championships. The New England Patriots return to the Super Bowl stage for an NFL-record ninth time after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Tom Brady threw for 384 yards -- a Patriots postseason game record -- and three touchdowns. Chris Hogan caught two of those scores and set a franchise playoff record with 180 receiving yards.
"There are only two teams left standing, and I'm happy we're one of them," Brady said.
Super Bowl LI is February 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Falcons dominate from the start
The NFC Championship Game was expected to be a shootout, but only one offense -- Atlanta's -- delivered.
The Falcons, who have the top scoring offense in the NFL, dominated from their first possession, with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu scoring on a 2-yard shovel pass from Ryan. It was the eighth straight game Atlanta has scored on its opening drive.
Green Bay, meanwhile, sputtered on its first possession, as Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal.
After a 28-yard field goal by Atlanta's Matt Bryant to make it 10-0, the Falcons' defense recorded its 10th consecutive game with a takeaway as cornerback Jalen Collins forced and recovered a fumble from fullback Aaron Ripkowski with 10:59 left in the second quarter.
A few minutes later, Ryan ran in from 14 yards, his first rushing touchdown since 2012, to make it 17-0.
Fans chanted, "MVP! MVP! MVP!" for Ryan, who threw for 392 yards. Julio Jones had nine receptions for 180 yards and two scores.
"We've worked hard to get to this point, but the challenge is still in front of us," Ryan said. "What we set out to accomplish is still in front of us."
There would be no magic from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on this day.
Backed up on their own 13 on third down late in the first half, Rodgers launched a deep ball that was intercepted by safety Ricardo Allen. Atlanta capitalized, with Jones hauling in a Ryan pass for a 5-yard touchdown just before halftime.
That made it 24-0. In the Rodgers era at Green Bay, which started in 2008, it was the first time the Packers trailed by 24 or more points at halftime.