NFC Championship: Key stats and observations

Timely takeaways, an explosive passing game and incredible third-down production led Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcons to an easy 44-21 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

Atlanta Falcons 44, Green Bay Packers 21

While much has been made of what the Green Bay Packers had done in their previous eight games, all wins, the Atlanta Falcons were the dominant team from the start in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, taking a 24-0 halftime lead en route to their 44-21 rout.

The Falcons sliced through the holes in the Packers defense on the opening drive, scoring a touchdown on their first drive for the eighth straight game. Four of the Falcons’ five first-half series went nine plays or more and 68 yards or more. They scored touchdowns on three of their first-half series and added a field goal on another.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan hit six different receivers on the first drive and that included one drop from Taylor Gabriel. On the second drive, Ryan had another receiver drop a pass, but he still finished the first half connecting on 22 of 32 passes for 271 yards, two touchdowns and a 115.5 rating.

While Packers QB Rodgers has been rightfully heralded for his mobility, Ryan also showed some mobility in extending plays, including a 14-yard touchdown scramble in the second quarter. It was his first rushing touchdown in 80 games, breaking the second-longest active streak in the NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As the Falcons were building their big first-half lead, Packers RB Aaron Ripkowski picked a terrible time for his first career fumble. The Packers were looking to get back into the game, down 10-0 in the second quarter, and were in the red zone when Ripkowski got his first carry of the game, gained 12 yards to the 11, but he had the ball stripped away from him by Jalen Collins, who also recovered the loose ball.

After taking a 10-0 lead following a rare missed field goal by Green Bay’s Mason Crosby, the Falcons took advantage of Ripkowski’s fumble, turning that into a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.

By the end, the Falcons were an incredible 10-for-13 on third downs and averaged 10.3 yards per pass play, with Julio Jones catching nine passes for 180 yards, his second playoff game with 180 or more yards receiving.

Some key observations, numbers:

  • In the 2012 NFC Championship Game, the Falcons led the San Francisco 49ers 17-0 in the second quarter, but lost 28-24. That’s what made a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jones with three seconds left in the half on Sunday so important. It gave the Falcons a 24-0 halftime lead. The Packers were receiving the ball in the second half, but went three-and-out without gaining a yard.
  • Injured receivers Jordy Nelson (broken ribs) and Jones (toe) both had big days. Jones had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in the first half and Nelson had four catches for 59 yards in the first half. But, while Jones finished with 180 yards, Nelson had only two catches in the second half for 8 yards.
  • An argument could be made that two Green Bay turnovers in the first half led to 17 points for the Falcons. The Packers appeared poised to score at least a field goal when Ripkowski’s fumble turned the tide. They would have been facing first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line when he fumbled, but Atlanta took that gift and turned it into an 80-yard touchdown drive, turning it into at least a 10-point swing. The Packers’ second turnover acted much like a good punt. Facing third-and-21, Rodgers unleashed a bomb for Nelson but overthrew it and the Falcons intercepted.  Ryan capped the ensuing 68-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown toss to Jones with 3 seconds left in the half.
  • The 24-0 halftime score was more than the Packers have trailed in the Rodgers era, according to the NFL. Rodgers had a 56 rating in the first half, but his interception that essentially acted as a big punt took it down to that range.
  • The Packers were 1-for-4 on third downs in the first half and the Falcons were 7-for-9.
  • Ryan’s first pass of the second half, a 73-yard touchdown to Jones, put the quarterback well over 300 yards (344) just one minute, nine seconds into the second half.
  • The Packers were the more efficient running team, averaging 5.8 per carry, but that was because Rodgers scrambled four times for 46 yards. 

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