Ryan leads Fal­cons past Rams in wild card game

The Standard Journal - - SPORTS - By Greg Beacham

LOS AN­GE­LES — Matt Ryan and the At­lanta Fal­cons showed the up­start Los An­ge­les Rams what play­off poise is all about.

Ryan passed for 218 yards and hit Julio Jones for an 8- yard touch­down with 5: 48 to play, and the de­fend­ing NFC cham­pion Fal­cons ad­vanced from the wild-card round with a me­thod­i­cal 26-13 vic­tory over the Rams on Satur­day night.

Devonta Free­man rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Fal­cons (11-6), who spoiled the Rams’ first play­off game in 13 years while show­ing off the post­sea­son poise they earned from last sea­son’s jour­ney to the Super Bowl.

At­lanta never trailed at the Coli­seum while win­ning play­off games in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons for the first time in fran­chise his­tory.

The Fal­cons ad­vanced to face the top-seeded Ea­gles on Jan. 13 in Philadel­phia.

Jones caught nine passes for 94 yards as At­lanta’s of­fense chewed up the clock and field po­si­tion.

The Fal­cons jumped to an early 13-0 lead while cap­i­tal­iz­ing on two early mis­takes by Pharoh Cooper, the Rams’ Pro Bowl kick re­turner.

The Fal­cons’ de­fense did more than enough to slow down the NFL’s high­est-scor­ing of­fense, ha­rass­ing Jared Goff into a 24- for-45 per­for­mance in his play­off de­but.

Robert Woods caught nine passes for 142 yards for the NFC West cham­pion Rams (11-6), but rookie Cooper Kupp scored the Rams’ only touch­down late in the first half.

At­lanta held MVP can­di­date Todd Gur­ley to 101 yards rush­ing — just 43 in the first three quar­ters — and four re­cep­tions for a mere 10 yards.

The Fal­cons ru­ined a cel­e­bra­tory night for the Rams, who re­bounded from a rough home­com­ing sea­son in 2016 with an out­stand­ing de­but year un­der 31-year-old Sean McVay, the youngest head coach to reach the play­offs in NFL his­tory.

A rau­cous crowd of 74,300 packed the Coli­seum on a crisp evening for the first NFL play­off game in the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest city since early 1994. Los An­ge­les went 21 years with­out pro football be­fore the Rams re­turned last sea­son, and the fran­chise em­phat­i­cally ended a 13-year streak of non-win­ning sea­sons this fall with an in­spir­ing run to the Rams’ first di­vi­sion ti­tle since 2003.

But the Fal­cons have been here be­fore, and they showed it.

Although the Fal­cons’ of­fense took a step back in pro­duc­tion this sea­son, At­lanta chipped away at the Rams’ de­fense through­out the Coli­seum re­turn of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Steve Sark­isian, who coached USC here un­til 2015.

Ryan was me­thod­i­cal un­der re­lent­less pres­sure from All- Pro line­man Aaron Don­ald, re­peat­edly avoid­ing trou­ble and making big throws. Free­man rushed for 66 yards, and Mo­hamed Sanu had a key 52-yard gain on a fourthquar­ter screen pass while fin­ish­ing with four catches for 75 yards.

Cooper is headed to the Pro Bowl af­ter his out­stand­ing reg­u­lar sea­son as a kick re­turner, but the sec­ond-year pro’s mis­ad­ven­tures in his play­off de­but cost the Rams dearly.

He muffed a punt that bounced off team­mate Blake Count­ess in the first quar­ter, and Bryant sub­se­quently hit the Fal­cons’ first field goal. Af­ter Bryant’s sec­ond field goal later in the quar­ter, Cooper got stripped by Da­mon­tae Kazee dur­ing a kick­off re­turn at the Rams 32, and the Fal­cons drove for Free­man’s short TD run.

The Rams’ of­fense strug­gled to get mov­ing, but fi­nally fig­ured it out late in the first half. Goff made sev­eral sharp throws on a 79-yard drive end­ing in Kupp’s TD catch.

Los An­ge­les then got the ball back and mounted an­other quick drive, but set­tled for Sam Ficken’s first field goal and a 13-10 half­time deficit.

The Fal­cons’ of­fense got back to its me­thod­i­cal work in the sec­ond half, mount­ing two clock-chew­ing drives end­ing in field goals by Bryant. The Rams’ de­fense sim­ply couldn’t get off the field, whether due to missed tack­les or clever play­call­ing by the Fal­cons.

Los An­ge­les trimmed the lead to 19-13 with 10:49 to play, but the Fal­cons made an­other drive high- lighted by that beau­ti­ful screen pass from a blitz-avoid­ing Bryant to Sanu.

Jones then caught the sixth play­off TD pass of his ca­reer. Goff drove the Rams deep into Fal­cons ter­ri­tory, but L.A. turned it over on down at the At­lanta 5 with 2:05 to play. The Fal­cons stopped the Rams again on downs at mid­field with 1:08 left.

Up next

Af­ter the Fal­cons’ de­fen­sive per­for­mance against Goff, they look like a po­ten­tial problem for the pow­er­ful Ea­gles with­out quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz in the early Satur­day divisional play­off game.

Cur­tis Comp­ton / AJC via AP

At­lanta’s Julio Jones picks up a first down past Los An­ge­les’ Lamar­cus Joyner dur­ing the first half.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.