Falcons rock the Dome with playoff victory


If this be the end of football days for the Georgia Dome — not a given quite yet — then let it be recorded that the Teflon-topped pleasure palace met the wrecking ball loud and proud.

The Dome’s death rattle was instead the sound of 71,000 Falcons fans releasing with all their voice the angst of failures past. It was the sound of unrestrained pleasure in watching an historic offense play up to its billing. The din of resounding victory.

To those who may believe that nothing good ever happens in John Lewis’ congressional district there came this rather strong rebuttal Saturday evening: Falcons 36, Seattle 20.

This was all Mardis Gras and no wake. “I thought the fans lit it up for us,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “There’s no doubt they are a big part of our brotherhood.”

And it could have been/should have been worse, had the Falcons not taken pity while taking a knee at the Seattle 2, running out the last two minutes.

And now the Falcons can lounge about on the cushions of their divisional playoff victory, awaiting the outcome of Sunday’s other half of the NFC equation. If Green Bay beats Dallas on Sunday, then the Dome has one more date left in her (not counting a February motocross). Otherwise, it’s a trip next week to Texas for the NFC Championship game.

Saturday was only the sixth Falcons playoff game this building has hosted, and it was the fourth time the customers were allowed to leave happy. This one was as completely satisfying as they have ever known.

How complete? Does the name Ben Garland mean anything to you?

The one-time defensive lineman at Air Force, still a captain in the Air National Guard, is on the Falcons’ depth chart as a reserve offensive lineman. Getting back to his roots, he had played 42 defensive snaps this season for the Falcons. On his 43rd he fell upon Wilson for a second-quarter safety that seemed to reboot the entire unit.

It wasn’t the most challenging of plays — Wilson was tripped while pulling away from center. And just to be in that pickle required that a holding penalty wipe out an 80-yard Devin Hester punt return and pin the Seahawks back deep in their own land. Still, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget a sack safety (his first ever) in the playoffs,” Garland said.

Other more noted Falcons did their part as well. Quarterback Matt Ryan, continuing to erase the ugly stigma of postseason wallflower, threw for 338 yards, three touchdowns and nary an interception. As has been the theme of all season, he was an equal-opportunity distributor, completing passes to 10 receivers. His group that led the NFL in scoring put up points in six of its first eight possessions.

And for all that, a defense that has to work in the long shadow of the Ryan Express played an important role, too.

“We told them this game was going to be about the ball,” Quinn said. And the Falcons wanted said ball just a little bit more.

This one was sealed with a pair of swipes. The first with 8:16 left, when a highly harassed Russell Wilson threw the ball to nowhere in particular, with safety Ricardo Allen swooping in for the interception.

The next was a gift to rookie linebacker, Deion Jones, the ball bouncing off a horizontal Luke Wilson directly into his hands with a bit more than two minutes remaining.

So complete that there was no doubt that for one day the mentee (Falcons coach Quinn) had it all over the teacher (Seattle’s Pete Carroll). This was Luke Skywalker taking out Yoda in a second-round TKO.

Oh, it was a little precarious there at first. With the game-opening drive, Seattle and Wilson held the ball for 8:34 while driving 89 mostly unopposed yards. It looked distressingly simple.

But an odd thing happened afterward: Seattle never broke the plane again until a Wilson touchdown pass with 3:29 left in the game. It was a score that meant less than nothing in the final reckoning. A callow defense aged significantly.

“We are growing,” safety Keanu Neal said. “We’re young, but we are starting to mold together as a unit, and it showed today.”

The tone of a season and the watermark of this offense was on full display with one telling sequence. Backed up inside their own 1 with just 3:48 to go before halftime, nursing a 12-10 lead, the Falcons wanted no part of conservatism. Why would they given an offense that defies both description and restriction?

With his first play of the series, Ryan settled all by himself back in the shotgun and winged an 8-yard pass to Jones. And they were off. Ninety-nine yards later — all through the air — Seattle’s reputation-rich defense was deflated, and the Falcons had a 19-10 lead.

Plus, the Falcons got the ball to start the second half.

Falcons. Offensive possession. You know what happens next.

Thirteen plays, 75 yards, 1-yard touchdown plunge by Devonta Freeman.

And the crowd was every bit a part of the story, too. In the last days of the Dome, the occupants were center stage.

Veteran defensive lineman Dwight Freeney had been a part of a lot of big days indoors back in Indianapolis. But Saturday, he said, “was right up there with any of those.”

“It was electric. I don’t think people realize how much they help a defense,” he said.

All were invited to take a victory lap around the Georgia Dome while they still could.



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