In seven months, the Georgia Dome will be reduced to a pile of concrete and steel, a testament to this city’s never-ceasing development and seeming indifference to preserving history.
The local NFL franchise has never done much to contribute to Atlanta’s history. The Falcons have played 51 seasons without winning a Super Bowl, although they did give the world Deion Sanders and the Dirty Birds – the 1998 team that is the only other Falcons’ squad to make the Super Bowl.
But these Falcons are a win away from giving their fans something more enduring: a Lombardi Trophy to display in the lobby of their new $1.5 billion stadium.
As confetti fell Sunday following the Falcons’ 44-21 demolition of Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, Atlanta had the look of a team poised to handle whatever Bill Belichick throws at it in Super Bowl LI in Houston.
Most figured Sunday’s matchup would be a high-scoring shootout between Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, the presumptive league MVP, and Packers quarterback and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.
Ryan (392 passing yards and 4 TDs) did his part. But the Packers (12-7) were late to the party, falling behind 31-0 under an barrage of points, yards and crowd noise.
Given the Falcons’ array of weapons, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said it’s impossible to stop both Atlanta’s running and passing attacks. Pick your poison.
The Falcons (13-5) racked up 493 yards and threatened to break the Panthers’ record for points in an NFC championship game, set last year in a 49-15 win against Arizona.
“It just shows how explosive we are as a unit. The sky’s the limit for us,” Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said. “As long as we keep executing and making plays all over the board, I think we’re unstoppable.”
Given the Falcons’ array of weapons, Freeman said it’s impossible to stop both Atlanta’s running and passing attacks. Pick your poison.
Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the former Panthers coach, brought extra defenders near the line of scrimmage to slow the Falcons’ ground game. That left a lot of space for Ryan’s fleet-footed receiving corps to roam.
The last two public events at the 25-year-old Dome will be monster truck events in March. But Sunday was a track meet.
Playing on the artificial turf before a sea of red, raucous fans, the Falcons were the fresher, faster team. And it wasn’t close.
When Julio Jones long-stepped it through the Packers’ secondary for a 73-yard touchdown catch a minute into the third quarter, it looked a lot like Week 4 when Jones ran roughshod through the Panthers’ secondary on his way to a 300-yard receiving day.
We ran into a buzzsaw. Those guys performed great and we didn’t have enough to keep up with them.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy
And you couldn’t help wonder where Bene’ Benwikere watched Sunday’s game.
The incomparable Jones pulled down nine of 12 targets for 180 yards and two TDs, including his lightning bolt near the start of the second half that gave the Falcons a 31-0 lead.
“It’s a sight to see, man,” No. 2 wideout Mohamed Sanu said of Jones. “It’s definitely a sight to see.”
The Packers were not much to look at.
The mental and physical tolls of needing to run the table after a 4-6 start – as Rodgers predicted Green Bay would – finally caught up with the Packers.
Green Bay receivers dropped passes and offensive linemen jumped offsides while dealing with deafening crowd noise, perhaps making Rodgers’ second-guess his decision to jab the Falcons last week for their history of piping in artificial noise.
But this was the old-fashioned variety, provided by strong-lunged fans starving for a winner.
The crowd spent a good part of the afternoon chanting “MVP!” in Ryan’s direction.
And for good reason: All Ryan did account for five touchdowns, including a 14-yard scramble, and post a 139.4 passer rating.
It helped that Ryan had Kyle Shanahan calling the plays (and will for at least one more game before taking the San Francisco head coaching job) and Jones and Co. zipping through a beaten-up and tired Packers defense.
We’ll play on anything. Concrete, broken glass, it doesn’t matter.
Atlanta wideout Mohamed Sanu
Sanu had eight touches – five receptions (including a TD), a 7-yard run on a direct snap and two onsides kick recoveries, highlighted by one he nearly broke for a touchdown.
While Freeman and Tevin Coleman were held in check in the run game, the two backs combined for seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.
During a TV timeout in the second half, six security officers took down a fan who ran onto the field, converging on the guy better than the Green Bay secondary had the entire second half.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “Those guys performed great and we didn’t have enough to keep up with them.”
I’m not sure the Patriots will have enough, either.
Like Rodgers, Brady will get his yards against a young but fast and opportunistic Atlanta defense.
But given what we’ve seen from the Atlanta offense all season, it’s a good bet Ryan will get more.
“We’ve got some unfinished business,” Ryan said during the post-game celebration. “We’ve got to take care of business in Houston in two weeks.”
Houston’s NRG Stadium – like the Georgia Dome – has an artificial surface that will accentuate the Falcons’ speed.
“We’ll play on anything,” Sanu said. “Concrete, broken glass, it doesn’t matter.”
The only thing that matters for these Falcons is winning – and bringing some shiny hardware for their new digs.