Saturday Night wrap-up: Falcons advance with 26-13 win over Rams
The Rams hosted their first NFL playoff game in Los Angeles since 1986. The NFC West title and the league’s highest-scoring offense generated interest and created excitement in L.A. for its NFC team.
The Rams sold 74,300 tickets for Saturday night’s game, and Rams fans showed up to cheer on the home team.
But the Rams spoiled the party.
The home team fell behind 13-0, never led and lost 26-13 to the Falcons. Atlanta, as the sixth seed, will play at Philadelphia next week.
The defending NFC champions would not be denied, holding the potent Rams offense to 13 points and forcing two turnovers on special teams against the NFL’s best special teams unit.
It put an end to a two-game run of comebacks in the postseason. The Patriots, of course, rallied from a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl to end the 2016 season, and the Titans opened the 2017 playoffs with a win despite falling behind 21-3.
The Falcons held off the upstart Rams, who closed to within 13-10 at halftime, with a team effort.
Kicker Matt Bryant made field goals of 29, 51, 25 and 54 yards.
Linebacker Deion Jones made 10 tackles, including one for loss, and had a pass breakup.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, sacked three times in the first half, completed 21 of 30 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Julio Jones caught nine passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman returned to being the two-headed monster with a combined 32 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Here are five more things we learned during Saturday Night Football:
1. Momentum matters.
The Falcons, after a 7-5 start, were a desperate team the last month of the season. They won three of their last four, including a 22-10 victory over the Panthers in Week 17.
The Falcons have not played as well as they did last season, but they are finding ways to win.
The Rams clinched the NFC West in their next-to-last game -- a 27-23 victory over the Titans -- so they chose to rest several of their star players in the regular-season finale. Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and other top players stayed on the sideline as the 49ers rolled Los Angeles 34-13 last week.
It’s a catch 22 for sure: Playing key players in a game without significant meaning comes with great risk, but there is something to be said for readying for the playoffs with playoff-like games.
2. Playoff experience matters.
The Rams had only six players on their roster with previous playoff experience. Gurley, Donald and Goff were among those playing in the postseason for the first time.
It showed at the start as the Rams looked uneasy and out of sorts in the first quarter when they gained only 14 yards. They scored the final 10 points of the first half and appeared to grab the momentum going into halftime, but they could never get over the hump against the veteran Falcons.
Atlanta has 36 players on its roster with 174 postseason games among them. The Falcons have been here, won here.
The Rams aren’t going anywhere. With a young core, they should return to the postseason many times in the coming years and will be better prepared the next time they get back.
3. Gurley deserves every postseason award he gets, but the Falcons defense deserves credit for what they did Saturday night.
Gurley averaged more than 175 scrimmage yards per game in his last five games, but the Falcons held the MVP candidate to 111 yards from scrimmage on 18 touches.
The Rams gained 361 yards, but they reached the end zone only once. Cooper Kupp caught a 14-yard pass from Goff in the second quarter.
4. The NFL needs to do a better job of ensuring better field conditions.
The Coliseum field was awful, with players slipping and sliding all night. Ryan nearly went down untouched on his 8-yard touchdown pass to Jones in the fourth quarter, but several other players couldn’t keep their footing.
The league is fortunate no player was seriously injured because of the poor field conditions.
5. Is Julio back?
The Falcons receiver had a down season -- or as down as a 1,444-yard season can be. He managed only four games over 100 yards this season and only three touchdowns.
Jones almost reached 100 yards against the Rams, coming up only 6 yards short, and his touchdown catch was his first since Week 11 against Tampa Bay when he scored twice.
The Falcons will need Julio to be Julio if they are to have a chance to do what they did last season.