The Atlanta Falcons’ offense is good.
Everyone knows that, of course. The Falcons led the NFL in scoring offense during the regular season. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, is a league MVP favorite. Their offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, is on his way to becoming the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
But everyone might have sold these Falcons short. This offense just might be Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams, “Greatest Show on Turf”-level good. It might be Peyton Manning and the Colts-level good. It even might be approaching Tom Brady and the 16-0 Patriots-level good or Manning and the Broncos in 2013-level good if not actually all the way there.
But it is in the conversation about the memorably great NFL offenses of the past decade or two.
And now, it is a Super Bowl offense.
Ryan, Shanahan and the Falcons punched their ticket to Houston by overwhelming the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, in the NFC title game Sunday in Atlanta. The Falcons will face the Patriots, who defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 36-17, in the AFC championship game Sunday night.
It will be the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since the 1998 season when Dan Reeves was the Falcons’ coach, Chris Chandler was their quarterback and Jamal Anderson was their “Dirty Bird”-dancing running back. Those Falcons were undone in part by Eugene Robinson’s pre-Super Bowl off-field misstep. They lost the Super Bowl to the Mike Shanahan-coached Denver Broncos in the final game of quarterback John Elway’s playing career.
Now it will be a Super Bowl for the next generation of the Shanahans. The offense devised by Kyle makes the Falcons a serious threat to anyone. Ryan makes it all work, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Julio Jones on the receiving end of those passes. But it’s not unusual to have multiple Falcons receivers running free and open on the same play.
Ryan threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. That was in the first half. It was 24-0 at halftime, and the Falcons made it 31-0 just over a minute into the third quarter. Game over.
Ryan finished with 392 yards on 27-for-38 passing. He threw four touchdown passes. Two of them went to Jones, who had nine catches for 180 yards.
The Atlanta defense did its part. It is not a great defense, by any means. But it can rush the quarterback, particularly when the Falcons are playing with a significant lead, and it can generate some turnovers. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers absorbed some significant hits Sunday, and the Green Bay offense didn’t get anything going until it was far too late.
It figured that the Green Bay defense would be overmatched. The surprise was that Rodgers and the Packers’ offense were no-shows until the outcome no longer was in doubt. These were the pre-winning-streak Packers of November, when people were questioning Rodgers’s play and Coach Mike McCarthy’s job security, when they were terrible and it was time to panic.
There is no doubt that the Falcons were the better team and had the better offense Sunday. Ryan was the superior quarterback, at least on this day.
The 49ers will have to wait to officially hire their coach. Shanahan has one more Falcons’ offensive game plan to put together.
It should make for an interesting Super Bowl Sunday, to see whether any defense can deal with this Atlanta offense and whether Tom Brady can keep pace with Ryan.