LOS ANGELES – This time, there was no huge comeback to douse the Atlanta Falcons.
They surely know better.
Instead, the Falcons are headed to a date in Philadelphia for the NFC divisional playoffs after pasting the Los Angeles Rams, 26-13, at the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday night.
Atlanta was clearly the more comfortable team on the grand stage of the playoffs. The team turned crucial Rams errors into a 13-0 cushion, then refused to squander the lead.
Hey, you can hardly take that for granted.
Not after the Falcons were victimized by the largest comeback in Super Bowl history last February, when the New England Patriots rallied from a 25-point deficit to break their hearts.
This time, though, there was no Tom Brady on the other side.
There was Jared Goff, the second-year quarterback who was brought back down to Earth along with the rest of the Rams as their amazing season was suddenly extinguished.
What a hard lesson for the Rams: Mistakes are even bigger in the postseason.
Five minutes into the game, a Falcons punt bounced off the foot of Blake Countess and the Falcons recovered to set up the first of Matt Bryant’s three field goals. Late in the first quarter, Pharoh Cooper fumbled on a kickoff return, which set up the 3-yard TD run by Devonta Freeman that made it 13-0.
From that, the Rams scrapped … but could never fully recover.
In the end, Los Angeles — which led the NFL in scoring but had just six players with prior playoff experience and a rookie coach in Sean McVay — just wasn’t ready for the high-stakes environment of playoff football.
The Falcons, on the other hand, were the only team to qualify for the NFC side of the bracket that was in the playoff field last year.
That mattered. Matt Ryan, despite being bruised and battered by the Rams defensive line, stayed poised and avoided big gaffes. He remained poised under pressure, and it set the tone for the whole operation. Meanwhile, Bryant was money, as usual, with two of his four field goals from beyond 50 yards. And the Falcons’ biggest star, Julio Jones, scored his first TD in six games for what turned out to be the game-clincher.
And the defense, filled with so many players who were on the field against, was magnificent. Todd Gurley had decent numbers (14 rushes for 101 yards), but he was no MVP. Robert Woods was a thorn, but he needed much more help. The Falcons contained McVay’s hot offense. And that was that.
Never mind that Super Bowl collapse. The resilient Falcons are still alive with a chance to make amends, seeking to become the first team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills to make it back to the Super Bowl after losing in the Super Bowl the previous season.
Now it’s on to Philadelphia to face the top-seeded Eagles, who seem vulnerable enough with Nick Foles filling in for injured quarterback Carson Wentz.
The Falcons should be brimming with confidence.
After all, they have been here before. And yes, they can protect a lead.
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Inset Image: AP Photo/File