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Super Bowl LI Patriots vs Falcons: How Atlanta reached the NFL title game

Taking a look back at the Atlanta Falcons’ 2016 season so far.

They have the most productive offense in the NFL. They have won the NFC South and have earned the number two seed in the conference. And they have dismantled both the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers on their way to Super Bowl LI, where they will meet the New England Patriots next Sunday.

Those are the hard facts. Now let’s take a closer look at the Atlanta Falcons’ 2016 season.

Week 1: vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Result: L 24-31
Record: 0-1

Atlanta opened the season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, Dan Quinn’s team struggled to extend drives against the visitors’ defense while also being unable to slow down Tampa Bay’s passing attack, especially on three deep touchdowns.

Thus, the Falcons found themselves in a 31-13 hole midway through the third quarter. They were able to make it a one-possession game by the fourth but failed to score a potentially game-tying touchdown.

Week 2: at Oakland Raiders

Result: W 35-28
Record: 1-1

In week 2, the Falcons registered their first win of the season. With future MVP candidates Matt Ryan and Derek Carr quarterbacking the two teams, the game was a close affair until the fourth quarter. At that point, tied at 21, Atlanta started to pull away thanks to consecutive touchdown drives.

Overall, the game saw two great offenses face off against at times little defensive resistance. As a result, the Falcons were able to score 35 points and gain 528 yards, while the Raiders amassed 28 points and 454 yards.

Week 3: at New Orleans Saints

Result: W 45-32
Record: 2-1

Just like one week before, Atlanta’s offense dominated the game. Whether it was through the air or on the ground, the Falcons seemingly moved the ball at will. The biggest star of the game was not the quarterback, though, it was running back Devonta Freeman who gained 207 yards from scrimmage and scored one touchdown.

While the game started close, the visitors really started to pull away in the second and third quarters. The Saints were still in striking distance for most of the contest, but a 90-yard interception return by Deion Jones early in the fourth quarter sealed the deal.

Week 4: vs Carolina Panthers

Result: W 48-33
Record: 3-1

Business as usual for the Falcons in week 3: The offense displays its firepower scoring a season-high 48 points against 2015’s Super Bowl runner-up, while the defense gave up a lot of points. This time, however, the final score is deceiving as Atlanta dominated from start to finish.

By the early fourth quarter, the Falcons were already ahead 34-10. While Carolina won the final period, the game was never really in doubt as Atlanta out-gained its opponent almost by almost 200 yards (571-378) while holding the ball for 34 minutes.

Week 5: at Denver Broncos

Result: W 23-16
Record: 4-1

One week after defeating the 2015 NFC Champions, the Falcons beat the 2015 AFC and Super Bowl Champions. Atlanta went into Denver to defeat the Broncos by one touchdown. While the offense had one of its least productive days of the year and struggled sustaining drives (2/12 on 3rd down), it was still able to hang 23 points on one of the league’s best defenses; thanks in part to 163 yards and a score by Tevin Coleman.

Atlanta’s defense, in the meantime, made it hard on first-time starter Paxton Lynch and the Broncos offense. The unit surrendered only one touchdown and three field goals and played a key role in Denver’s first defeat of the season.

Week 6: at Seattle Seahawks

Result: L 24-26
Record: 4-2

Atlanta’s second loss of the year happened against the team it would ultimately see again in the divisional playoff round. The first meeting between the two teams was a close affair that saw the home team take a 17-3 halftime lead. In the third quarter, however, the Falcons scored 21 unanswered points to take the lead.

After a the Seahawks came within one late in the fourth quarter, a costly interception by Matt Ryan set up what eventually became Seattle’s game-winning field goal. While the Falcons tried to re-take the lead, a failed fourth down conversion that saw a highly-debated no-call go the Seahawks’ way sealed Atlanta’s second loss of the year.

Week 7: vs San Diego Chargers

Result: L 30-33 (OT)
Record: 4-3

One week after losing in Seattle, the Falcons were defeated at home by the 2-4 Chargers. The game actually started well for Atlanta and the team took a 27-17 lead into halftime. However, things unraveled in the second half. The Falcons’ offense was unable to get into any rhythm and scored only one field goal for the final 30+ minutes of the game.

San Diego, on the other hand, took advantage of this and eventually tied the game after a Ryan interception late in the fourth quarter (just like one week prior). In overtime, Atlanta was stopped on 4th and 1 on its own 45-yard line. Six plays later, the team found itself at 4-3.

Week 8: vs Green Bay Packers

Result: W 33-32
Record: 5-3

Atlanta was back in the win column the following week by beating the Green Bay Packers in yet another offensively dominated game. Both teams were fairly equal all game long, with the Packers taking a 24-19 lead into halftime but the Falcons coming back in the second half.

With the visitors taking a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter the pressure was on Matt Ryan and the offense to deliver. And deliver they did to take 33-32 lead with 31 seconds left in the game. The defense then forced a 4th down stop to end the game.

Week 9: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Result: W 43-28
Record: 6-3

In week 9, the Falcons and Buccaneers met again. But while the first matchup was a quality victory by Tampa Bay, the rematch was handily won by Atlanta. While the home team took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and then a 14-13 lead in the second, it was down 40-14 by the time it scored again.

Overall, the Falcons scored five touchdowns and three field goals on their 10 possessions and did not have to punt all game long. In short: The offense was able to score at will. The defense did not play great but it certainly played opportunistic and did enough to help keep the Buccaneers in check.

Week 10: at Philadelphia Eagles

Result: L 15-24
Record: 6-4

Despite 10 days rest coming off their Thursday nighter against Tampa Bay, the Falcons played their worst game of the year against the Eagles. In a low-scoring affair, it was Atlanta’s defense that played the key role early on as the offense struggled to find its groove.

In the fourth quarter, however, a long touchdown – and a questionable, ultimately unsuccessful 2-point attempt – gave Atlanta its first lead of the day. However, the team failed to overcome the 11 consecutive points the home team scored afterwards and thus fell to 6-4.

Week 11: bye

Week 12: vs Arizona Cardinals

Result: W 38-19
Record: 7-4

Coming off its bye week, Atlanta had another quality outing. The offense and defense both were efficient as the Falcons took a 17-13 lead into halftime. If there was one blemish early in the game, it is an interception by Ryan setting up a Cardinals field goal late in the second quarter.

The second half, however, saw a dominant Falcons team. After an early punt, the offense scored touchdowns on its next three drives, while the defense slowed down Arizona’s offensive attack and helped secure a 17-point victory.

Week 13: vs Kansas City

Result: L 28-29
Record: 7-5

Seeing Atlanta leave the field as the losing team appeared in week 13 for the last time so far this season. The Falcons and Chiefs played a close contest that was tied at 13 midway through the second quarter. A pick-six thrown by Ryan gave Kansas City a 20-13 lead; it would be 27-16 early in the fourth quarter.

The 11-point deficit forced Atlanta to go for two on its first touchdown in the final period. However, the pass attempt failed. Therefore, the team went for it again after another touchdown gave the Falcons a 28-27 lead. However, this time the attempt did not just fail it led to two Chiefs points: Safety Eric Berry undercut a throw by Ryan and returned it to Atlanta’s end zone to give his team a 29-28 victory.

Week 14: at Los Angeles Rams

Result: W 42-14
Record: 8-5

One week after they visited the Patriots, the Rams hosted the Falcons. The result was the same: a blowout loss. In fact, Atlanta’s week 14 victory in Los Angeles was tied for the team’s most lopsided game of the season as the team dominated in all three phases from the get-go. When the Rams scored their first points in the fourth quarter, they were already down 42-0.

The Falcons recovered a fumble on the opening kick return and one play later scored a touchdown. The offense, which had its lowest yardage output of the season (286 yards), would score three more times – but also saw the defense steal the show. The unit had five takeaways and scored two touchdowns; proving Atlanta’s abilities are not limited to the offensive side of the football.

Week 15: vs San Francisco 49ers

Result: W 41-13
Record: 9-5

The game against the 49ers tied the one against the Rams as the Falcons’ most lopsided win of the season. And just like one week prior, the contest was pretty much over by the end of the first quarter. At that point, Atlanta already led 21-0.

Offensively, the team was sharp (except one lost fumble by Devonta Freeman in the second quarter), while the defense played another excellent game. It did give up two touchdowns but also forced seven punts, registered one takeaway and never allowed the 49ers to get back into the game.

Week 16: at Carolina Panthers

Result: W 33-16
Record: 10-5

The second game against Carolina did not look any different than the first one. The Falcons again started fast and jumped to a 20-3 lead by halftime. By the time both teams entered the locker rooms, the defense had already registered two interceptions.

Atlanta was unable to sustain its first half pace after intermission but it did not need to. The team was still able to hold the Panthers at check by playing safe, time-consuming offense and not giving up big plays on defense.

Week 17: vs New Orleans Saints

Result: W 38-32
Record: 11-5

With a first round playoff bye on the line, Atlanta was able to do its job and defeat the visiting Saints. As had been the case in weeks prior, the team started incredibly fast and scored five touchdowns on its first five possessions. Thus, the Falcons had a comfortable 35-13 lead at halftime.

By the end of the third quarter, Atlanta had added a field goal to bring its lead to 25 points. However, the Saints fought their way back into the game and three unanswered touchdowns. It ultimately was too little too late, though, as the Falcons held on to their 38-32 victory. Thus, the team earned the number two seed in the NFC.

NFC Divisional Playoffs: vs Seattle Seahawks

Result: 36-20

Seattle defeated Atlanta in the teams’ regular season meeting. In the playoffs, however, the tables were turned. While the Seahawks started with a long touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead, the Falcons responded in kind – and eventually dominated the second quarter. A safety, a field goal and a touchdown gave the home team a 19-10 halftime lead.

The second half started as well as the first one ended for Atlanta, which opened with another touchdown drive. Both teams then exchanged field goals before a defensively dominated fourth quarter decided the game in the Falcons’ favor. Two interceptions as well as Matt Ryan’s third touchdown pass earned Atlanta a spot in the NFC title game.

NFC Championship: vs Green Bay Packers

Result: 44-21

With the red-hot Packers coming to town, Atlanta needed to bring its A-game to reach the Super Bowl. Dan Quinn’s team did just that. The Falcons scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, saw the Packers miss a field goal, and then took a 10-0 lead. Another Green Bay miscue – a lost fumble – set up Atlanta’s second touchdown; the third would give the team a 24-0 halftime lead.

The Falcons kept their foot on the gas in the second half. The defense continued its stellar play by forcing a three-and-out, while the offense scored a 73-yard touchdown on a connection from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. While the Packers then scored three touchdowns on their next three possessions, two Falcons scores kept the distance between the two teams. In the end, the better one punched its ticket to the Super Bowl.

There, after 18 games, the Falcons will face the AFC’s top team: the Patriots.