ATLANTA — A quick story on why the Atlanta Falcons, who just knocked off the Seattle Seahawks 36-20, have an offense strong enough to roll right to a Super Bowl victory:
Just under four minutes left in the first half. Quarterback Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons offense huddled in the shadow of their own goalposts, standing together on the giant red “C” in the center of their end zone. The ball sat on the turf one yard in front of them, the end zone another 99 yards past that.
The Falcons were up 12-10 at the time, but it was a lead that came with the kind of fluttery relief that comes from, say, barely avoiding getting your hand slammed in a car door. Atlanta had ridden a fortunate penalty and a clumsy Seattle safety to a virtual 12-point swing. This wasn’t do-or-die, not by any means, but a quick three-and-out, any Seattle score before the end of the half, and the league’s most potent offense would be working from behind yet again.
“We looked in each other’s eyes, and we knew what we had to do,” receiver Taylor Gabriel told Yahoo Sports. “There wasn’t a whole lot of talking. We knew what had to get done.”
Here’s how that particular drive went down:
-Pass to Julio Jones, 8 yards.
-Pass to Tevin Coleman, 5 yards.
-Pass to Mohamed Sanu, 22 yards.
-Pass to Gabriel, 18 yards.
-Pass to Sanu, 12 yards.
-Pass to Coleman, 14 yards, touchdown.
Nine plays, 99 yards, 175 seconds off the clock. Ryan distributed the ball all over the field as efficiently as a Vegas dealer, throwing dart after dart into the ever-softer Seattle secondary. The Falcons were up nine, and Seattle would never get closer.
“That drive was a synopsis of what we did all day,” Ryan said. “We executed really well.”
This is real. This is happening. After a half-century spent mostly as a doorstop, an unreliable rooting interest, or a guaranteed W on other teams’ schedules, this is an Atlanta Falcon offensive attack capable of overwhelming any defense still left standing in the NFL. Against a Seattle defense that ranked third in points allowed with 18.3, the Falcons doubled that up, and could have pushed further into the black had Atlanta not knelt in victory formation at the Seattle 2 to close out the game.
The Falcons under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have crafted an offense that can win from any direction – left, right, above, below. You crowd the box to stop the run, and Ryan picks you apart with whichever of a dozen receivers is open at any given moment. You drop back into pass coverage, and Coleman and Devonta Freeman start rolling downhill out of the backfield, and it takes six men and a pickup truck to bring them down.
“You never know when the ball is going to go,” Gabriel said. “If you have a route, you run it fast and you try to get open. Matt, man, he sees the defense and reads the defense and gets it where it needs to be.”
The Falcons finished the day with 422 yards, 99 of them on the ground. They notched 28 first downs to Seattle’s 17. Ryan completed 26 of his 37 passes to 10 receivers, and spread three touchdowns among Jones, Coleman and Sanu. Coleman and Freeman combined for 204 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns out of the backfield. This is an offense that flat-out purrs.
“It’s a ton of fun,” tight end Levine Toilolo said. “There’s guys all over this offense that can make plays. It doesn’t fall on one guy. Receivers, tight ends, running backs, the guys up front, Matt … that’s what’s hard to defend.”
The Falcons’ problem is this: in football, there are times when the other team gets the ball, and your offense has to leave the field. Atlanta’s defense can range from otherworldly to incompetent and back again, sometimes in the same series. Seattle opened up the game with a 14-play, 89-yard drive that devoured 8:34 of the clock and battered away at the Falcons’ d-line with a relentless run game. Fortunately for Atlanta, Seattle didn’t have any more such drives. Atlanta likely won’t be so fortunate against either Dallas or, especially, Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay.
This, then, is the conundrum in which the Falcons find themselves: the offense has to score enough to outrun the defense, which always seems to leave the back door open. Here’s the thing, though: the Falcons can do just that. They’re one win from the Super Bowl, two wins from the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And they might score 100 points between now and then.
So yes, Arthur Blank, could dance his lapels off. On behalf of his team, he earned it:
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) January 15, 2017
The Falcons will play again in eight days, and will learn within 24 hours whether they’ll be flying to Texas or hosting the Packers. It’ll be fireworks either way.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.