Falcons Prepare for West Coast Playoff Brawl

By Mike Lederle

Oops, we did it again! No need to apologize, Dirty Birds. In fact, take a bow! All of the lazy narratives from writers, and t.v. personalities about Super Bowl hangovers have been put to rest. The Atlanta Falcons are the only NFC team to return to the playoffs in 2017 compared to the ’16 playoffs.

Coach Dan Quinn and company deserve some praise for this. The mental hurdles, the constant reminders, the negative stories…nauseating would describe it best. The Falcons overcame a lot, and are rewarded with a return to the postseason. You can’t rewrite history if you don’t allow yourself the opportunity to do so. So instead of bird bashing, let’s enjoy this current flight pattern.

Speaking of flying, the so-called Superman arrived in Atlanta in week 17, but the Falcons were Cam’s Kryptonite. The defense stepped up in this one. Cam seemed off throughout the afternoon, and the early on pass break ups in the secondary set the tone early. More importantly, those pass breakups eventually turned into three interceptions (Allen, Neal, & Alford). That’s right, turnovers! And not a defensive flag to be found among them. The defense has been solid in recent weeks, and was due for some game changing plays. They delivered.

And as I plan out my Christmas decor for next year, let’s forget the infamous leg lamp from A Christmas Story. Here’s dibs on getting a replica leg lamp of Matt “Money” Bryant on the shelves in time for the 2018 holiday season. What more can you say of a kicker that continues to defy the odds as he laughs in the face of Father Time? Five made field goals, and none more clutch than the 56-yarder which made it a two-score game late in the 4th quarter. The kicking game is often the backstory only spoken of when a kick is missed. Matt Bryant defines clutch, and the Falcons are lucky to have one of the best.

Matty Ice played a solid game, and his pocket presence was on point. Numerous scrambles when needed, stepping up in the pocket, buying time, clutch throws were common place this Sunday afternoon. Big catches by Julio, Sanu, Hardy to name a few. The one area we’d like to see improvement is in the running game. But taking care of the ball on the offensive side was key to this team win.

Well, I talked previous about getting to know new people in the new year, and the Falcons will be doing just that in their first round wild card matchup with the Rams. Rookie head coach Sean McVay did the smart thing in resting his key starters in their week 17 finale – Goff, Gurley, and Donald to name a few. The Rams seemed content to let the chips fall where they may. If the Saints were to have won on the final weekend of the regular season, coupled with a Rams loss, it would have meant a different seeding with the Falcons traveling to New Orleans. Deep down, is that what the Rams would have preferred? Meeting Carolina in the first round, and then a possible trip to Philly? Instead they’ll get the Falcons, and my feeling is the carefree week 17 mantra could come back to bite the Rams.

The Falcons defense is improving. Less yards being given up through the air, becoming more consistent against the run. The duo of Debo, and Neal are thriving. Need I remind you that this pair was drafted only two years ago? Props again to Quinn & Dimitroff. Debo specifically has taken his play to the next level. Key stops, and key plays in games down the stretch. Specifically going back to both the Seattle & New Orleans games. Neal is coming off his first career interception vs. Carolina, and continues to strike fear into opponents who dare cross the middle. Ricardo Allen’s play is not talked about enough. I haven’t even mentioned Grady Jarrett, he’s pro-bowl caliber right now. Beasley, Takk, Clayborn, Poe, there is a lot of fun to be had on this Falcons defense. All of this with a rookie defensive coordinator (Marquand Manuel) as well calling the plays in 2017. The arrow is pointed up, way up!

Let’s also not fail to mention another rookie coordinator on the offensive side of the ball. Steve Sarkisian has been under the microscope throughout this season. Again, rookie coordinator. Just as fans often don’t allow rookie head coaches to grow, rookie coordinators maybe should be given the benefit of the doubt with fans accepting somewhat of a learning curve. Lessening the miscues (dropped passes, penalties most notably) will only help. Players executing is still the most important element at the end of the day.

The fine line that the Falcons walk with this collection of young talent (both players/coaches alike) is that time for consistent winning is upon us. Too few franchises are afforded the opportunity to win it all. The “window” as they call it. We’re here, it’s open, can you feel the winter breeze?

The core/veteran players (Ryan/Julio/Freeman/Sanu/Trufant/Alford) already in place are more than good enough. The question is, can the Falcons consistently click on all cylinders at the right time? We saw this same Falcons team gel in their Super Bowl run a season ago.

This Falcons playoff team (sixth seed), I feel can be considered one of the more dangerous sixth seeds in recent seasons. The talent & speed on both sides of the ball is enough to keep opponents up at night.

Let’s make this L.A. playoff premier one to remember on Wild Card weekend. We all know how the stars come out in Hollywood for a big sporting event. It’s time to remind the masses the star power that these Atlanta Falcons possess.

We Love L.A., We Love It!

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