Falcons dominate Packers, advance to Super Bowl LI

COURTESY: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a highlight-reel score by star receiver Julio Jones. The defense played just as crucial a role in containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense.

Rodgers had 287 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. But the Falcons got to Rodgers with pressure and forced two Green Bay turnovers. Rodgers was outplayed by Ryan, who even ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Atlanta will play either New England or Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The only other time that Atlanta made the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season. The Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.

The Packers fell in the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons.

 

Postgame quotes (Courtesy: Atlanta Falcons)

ATLANTA FALCONS HEAD COACH DAN QUINN

Opening Statement:

“Before we get started. I just wanted to recognize a cool moment to share with Arthur, for a man who has meant so much to our city, both on the field and off the field. It was quite a moment to share that with him, so for that, I appreciate it. Secondly, the brotherhood that these men in our locker room has built has led to this moment. And how hard they want to play for one another, against each other, help getting each other ready, I couldn’t have been more proud of them. Lastly for the fans, for this city, and for teams that have rocked this place for 25 years, we felt your energy from the very beginning. So it’s only fitting that the NFC Championship game, the last game played here, we felt that juice. So with that, I appreciate it. With that, I’ll open it up to your questions.”

On heading to the Super bowl as a head coach:
“First thing, I am excited for the opportunity, but more importantly, excited for the players. We’ll throw a great plan for them. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but as we go through tomorrow, we’ll draw up a great plan to get ready. We’ll find out who we play. We know where it will be, but hopefully, there are a lot of people with black and red on. We’ll have a great plan for it, but most importantly, I’m excited for the guys.”

On the battle between Jake and Clay Matthews:
“I’m sure that battle has taken place before between Jake [Matthews] and Clay [Matthews]. But we have lots of respect for them. We knew this game was going to be a battle. They’re a very good team, toughness loaded all throughout. Their front, their quarterback, their receivers. I thought their receiving corps showed a lot of grit in this game. They had a number of guys that were banged up, and all along there was a lot of talk, will they play, won’t they play? I cited exactly how it would go, knowing some of those guys and the toughness that they have, I thought they would.”

On when you know you were going to win the NFC championship:
“I did not. The question was did we feel the positive energy? When I walked out for pregame, honestly, is when I felt the intensity and the juice of the cloud, and I remember leaning over to one of the coaches and saying, Isn’t this awesome, man? And it’s not until the end where you allow yourself to have those moments to go to a different spot. So for me, it wasn’t until I took the headset off at the end, to be honest with you.”

On the defense’s ability to control and corral Aaron Rodgers:

“We knew that was going to be a factor. When you face a quarterback as talented and as good as Aaron, you better find ways to get him off the spot. He’s been as dangerous in the pocket as he has been out. So for sure, the defensive coaches, they’ve worked hard. The clearest part was the players having a real clear understanding of our game plan. Part of that work you put in Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, when you get to game time, you know you’ve put the work in, and then it’s time to go execute it. And that’s kind of the process that we follow each a week. So they had a good week of preparation, and I thought we played well.”

On the toughness of Julio Jones:

He never ceases to surprise us, because he makes the extraordinary plays seem ordinary. And that’s not a very typical thing to do. He’s a heck of a competitor. For sure he was battling through it, and typical Julio fashion came through in the biggest way.”

On Jalen Collins and Deion Jones:

“The more you play together and gain experience together, the faster you can play. So we’re playing faster now than we did earlier in the season. And our speed hasn’t changed in terms of we didn’t go lower our 40 times, but because of our communication, because of the style and attitude that we’re able to play with, we’re able to play faster. And the four underneath guys, when we play zone, that’s good. We played a lot of man-to-man today too. So the guys outside knew they’d have to battle against these receivers. But we thought that would be the best way for us to play our best. We certainly challenge those guys and couldn’t have been more proud of them.”

On the moment during this game when you thought you were going to the Super bowl:
“I thought a shift took place for us. We had a difficult loss against Kansas City, and that was probably the first shift for us before we went out to L.A. as a team. We knew we could play better. And that first shift took place. The unconditional support for one another, our intensity, took it up a notch. Then I thought another shift took place our first playoff bye week. We didn’t just kind of hang around. We had real intent on getting better and finding an edge. And I thought that took place the second shift, and I thought that carried into this week in terms of our preparation for practice.

On Matt Ryan’s career:
“For me, I hope Matt’s right in the middle. I don’t think it’s time to talk about legacy stuff. I hope we’re battling for a long time together. For me, I think those are conversations for the end of your career, and for Matt and I, we’re right in the middle of it.”

On Matt Ryan’s performance:
“I did have some fun with that during the game. I said, man, you look fast today. He kind of looked at me like, really? And, yeah. But when you play man-to-man sometimes, players havIe their backs turned, and Matt’s continually done that this year. It wasn’t just in this game. When those opportunities are there and you do play man-to-man and some backs are turned, he took advantage of that today. He’s such hell of a competitor. He takes hots, he’s tough, and he just continues to battle. I’m very proud of him today.”

On the expectation of the players:

“I couldn’t have been more proud. In terms of that connection between our staff, our coaching staff, the collaboration it takes, we have a really clear understanding of one another and what we’re looking for. It’s through Thomas [Dimitroff] and Scott [Pioloi] and their leadership, knowing, okay, we know each other better after a year. I think it was Scott or Thomas, some DQ guys, and they know that toughness, intensity guys, and guys who love ball. We’ve got a whole bunch of them in that room. So it means quite a bit to me.”

On whether he feels empathetic for defensive coordinators trying to stop the Falcons offense:
No.

On when he will think about making it to the Super Bowl as a head coach:
“I think those are great questions for way down the line. For us and our team, we’re going to find out. We’re going to enjoy it tonight, find out who we play, and we’re going to go try to throw a hell of a plan. We have a real process that we go truth to get ready. We’ll include that with the team as we go through tomorrow. But it will be a great challenge. I know the teams that are playing tonight have not spent one minute looking ahead. All of our intent and focus was on this game. So whoever we play, it will take a lot of work.”

On what was working between him and Julio Jones:

“Well we had good matchups and Kyle [Shanahan] did a great job of dialing up plays all day, he stayed aggressive. But at the end of the day, it comes down to Julio making some plays. I thought he played awesome, was huge for us in critical situations and showed how great of a player he is. That was fun to be a part of that.”

 

QUARTERBACK MATT RYAN

On working with Kyle Shanahan to build this offense:
“Well, I felt like at the time he does such a good job of putting people in positions to be successful using match-ups. But it was much different from what I had done in the past. Play calls are a lot longer. Being on top of the details and making sure everything is just right is really important. I just felt that we could do some really good things when we all got comfortable together.”

On officially being a Super Bowl quarterback:

“No, I feel exactly the same. I mean I’m happy. I’m happy for everybody in our organization. We’ve worked hard to get to this point. But the challenge is still in front of us. What we set out to accomplish is still in front of us, and we’ll enjoy it, because it’s hard to get to this point, I know that, from experience. It’s really difficult to get to this point, and we’ll enjoy the build-up and the process leading to it. But our ultimate goal is still in front of us.”

On the hardest part of getting to this point:

“Well, it’s really difficult to win one game in this league. It really is. Honestly, it’s tough. And to string together and keep guys healthy, and to get the opportunity and to be playing your best at the right time, there are a lot of things that have to go into it. And I feel like this team we’ve had this year has been the right mix. We’re a team that’s gotten better as the year has gone on, offense, defense, special teams, and I feel like we’re starting to play our best ball now.”

On targeting Mohamed Sanu early and how that worked out for Julio Jones:
“Yeah, I think it was, for us, the play calls Kyle had, the match-ups that we saw with the coverage they were playing, Mohamed was the guy early, and he made some really good plays for us. I mean, he’s done that for us all year. Lots of games. He brings energy to it when he makes plays, and I think guys feed off of that. And that was certainly the case today.”

On the running touchdown:

“We were just dropping back to pass, and they were playing two man in that. There is nobody to account for the quarterback. And everybody’s backs are turned playing coverage, playing man-to-man coverage. Just saw a lane open up, and felt like if I could make a little pump fake, he would drive on three. Got him, and the other guy’s backs were turned. It was the longest run I’ve had in a while, so it was a good one. Came at a good time.”

On what he heard from the sideline:
“Oh, man, I was getting hits all over the place. Guys were excited. But we’ve done that. I haven’t probably scored a touchdown in a couple years, but we’ve had some situations, critical third downs where when things are covered, I take off and try to move the chains for us. I always feel like I’m just fast enough to get it done.”

On the Jalen Collins turnover:
“Yeah, I think turnovers are key every game, specifically today. I mean, the turnover he was able to create and for us to bounce back and go down and put points on the board was really, really important. You know, we talk about every week it’s about the ball being plus in that turnover category. I think we were plus two today. It’s amazing how many games you’ll win in you stay in the plus.”

On Julio Jones play:

“I think he had two great plays. Right before the end of the half, the back shoulder catch he made, his ability to get his feet down. I mean, it’s just special what he’s capable of doing. And then to come back out, our defense creates a three-and-out, and we go down and we’re able to score. I think it was the second play of the drive. He’s a beast. I mean, he’s an absolute stud. I’ve been so lucky to play with him as long as I have. He was impressive today. And I know he wasn’t feeling his best, but he’s a warrior, and he went out and competed for us.

On regrouping in the middle of the season:
“Yeah, I think so. I think there’s always opportunities to get better. Sometimes they happen in different ways. Whether it’s a loss or a win or a play here or there. You know, there is something that kind of kicks in, and I feel like it has for our team. I really think it’s changed in our preparation. I really feel like for the last two months, we’ve attacked the week the right way. We’ve really prepared well, competed well in practice, and I think that’s shown in the way we’ve played.”

On time in between games:

“Yeah, our coaches have done a great job. That’s one of the things as a player, when your coaches do such a good job of putting you in positions to succeed, it’s huge. Across the board, I mean, Dan has been awesome and really does a great job with his staff of getting us prepared to play, having us fresh, knowing our plan, and being ready to go out there and play the way we’re capable of. He’s done a good job of that.”

On having home field advantage:

“I thought it was an advantage today. I thought the crowd was great. A really cool way to send out the Georgia Dome, and happy for the fans here in Atlanta.”

On whether he thought this would be the year:
“You know, I don’t know. Not really. I don’t think there is one light that goes off. I felt like at the beginning of when we got into OTAs and we were in training camp, I felt like we could be really good. You talk about the number of different pieces that we had, the way we were working, all those things, I felt like we could be solid. And, you know, in all honesty, as a player, you stick to such a week to week routine. You’re not really looking down the road all that much.”

On Kyle Shanahan’s schemes:

“He’s got a great feel for our personnel, the defense that we’re going against and what combination our guys could get into to go against that. He’s got a really, really good feel for that. He’s got a great feel during games too. Let’s get to X, Y and Z. He’s very detailed about that during the week, and reacts to it during games.”

On how much patience it requires for you personally to get to this point:
“Yeah, it’s one of those things you can’t — you know, you can’t lose belief or confidence. One thing about this league is week to week you can get humbled very quickly. There are so many good players, so many good teams. And learning what works best for you personally and what works best for our team has taken time, for sure. But it’s one of those things I always felt like we’d get to this point where we’d have an opportunity to play in this game, and I’m happy that we’re there.”

 

WIDE RECEIVER JULIO JONES

On how it felt for his family to watch him play:

“It felt amazing. Those are my supporters. That’s why I do it. From an early age, my mom, my brother, my step-father. Everybody. Those people have basically molded me into who I am today. The way I go out there, attack the game and take nothing for granted.”

On how much pain he was in today:

“It was okay. It was okay. I was in [some pain]. I got the job done.”

On what was going through his head when the clock reached triple zeros:

“It was just. Two weeks. You know, two weeks. It’s a great accomplishment for this ball club. The guys who put all the work in. We worked hard to get to this point. We’ve got to keep our head down and keep going. It’s not over.”

On when he knew the offense couldn’t be stopped:

“I mean throughout practice. We know that from practice. When we go out there and the guys practice the way they practice… Going out there and aggressively catching balls and running through it. Matt’s on point. The offensive line is doing a great job for us. Then and there we already know. We don’t have to get to the game to know we’re going to be clicking.”

On how good it feels to know how many weapons the offense has:

“We definitely had them shook early on. [Mohamed] Sanu made some plays early on for us so they’re trying to take Sanu away. Then I make a few plays. Then [Taylor] Gabriel makes a few plays. Then we can run the ball with Tevin [Coleman] and [Devonta] Freeman out of the backfield. We were gassing them a little bit. We were driving the ball down the field. Every time we got the ball we were getting points out of the drive.”

On how it feels to be crowned NFC Champions:

“It feels great. The hard work we’ve put in is paying off. We go out here and play for each other week in and week out. It shows. That’s why we are NFC champs right now. It’s not over right now. Two more weeks.”

On whether they will be Super Bowl Champions if he plays like he did today:

“I would say so because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter about who we are playing or what they are doing. It’s all about us. If we go out there and we don’t have any mistakes setting us back, then most definitely.”

On closing out the Georgia Dome with a victory:

“It felt great. Everybody is going to put that added pressure. You guys put that added pressure. Last game in the Dome, ‘you are going to do this, you are going to do that.’ We handled it well. Like I said, it’s just the way we work. It’s fun. It’s fun to do it. I literally enjoy coming to work to have fun working with my brothers. That feeling…You can play in this league for a long time and never have that feeling. It’s a wonderful thing.”

On how to describe Matt Ryan:

“MVP. He’s a great player. He’s a great leader on the team and he’s my brother.”

On his 73-yard touchdown down the sideline:

“Yeah. I came off. I guess they were playing just tug and hold, which any cornerback is going to do. They are going to try to pull you, mess up the timing and the rhythm the receiver and the quarterback has. I went out and Matt [Ryan] gave me a great ball. He gave me a floater and let me run through the ball. After that, those guys weren’t going to tackle me once I got going.”

On how he would describe Dan Quinn:

“[Dan Quinn]… No shade to the other [coach] Mike Smith. He was a great head coach for me, but Q is a phenomenal coach. Just the way he allows players to lead the team, go out there and just have fun. ‘Oh, this is a big game we’ve got to go out here and do something different.’ That’s why we are able to go out there and execute the way we execute. DQ gives us that freedom to be us. He doesn’t make the game too big for us. ‘Oh, this is the NFC Championship game. We’ve really got to go out here and hit these guys in the mouth. We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to do that.’ Throughout the week, it’s just the way we work.”

On how loose the team was heading into the game:

“We were cool. Like I said, we just go out there and have fun. We put the work in throughout the week. Today is fun.”

On whether he was full speed in practice and what playing through pain tells the team:

“I didn’t run full speed at practice this week. I’m not going to tell you a story. I didn’t run full speed at practice. It’s not about me. I’m out here with 53 other guys, my coaching staff, and everybody. I’m the same as everyone. It’s not on me. If I can go out there and move around, I’m going to go do it. If I was just doing it for myself, it’d be easy to quit on myself, but when you’re doing it for other people you’re going to do it. For me, it’s just about getting out there on the field and being able to run. Once I knew I could run, I was good to go.”

On when he knew he was good to play:

“I came out in the pre-game. I practiced a little bit Friday and moved around. I came out for pre-game and ran some routes. I knew right then and there I was good to go. Of course, I’m going to feel [the toe], but it didn’t hinder me too much from doing what I needed to do.”

 

WIDE RECEIVER MOHAMED SANU

On whether he likes playing on artificial turf:

“I mean, we’ll play on anything: concrete, broken glass, it doesn’t matter.”

On how this will affect their stock price:

“I don’t know. It feels awesome.”

On how him touching the ball in a lot of different ways speaks to the team as a whole:

“Yeah, we just have a job that we have to do and when we are called upon, we all do it. That’s what brotherhood is about. It’s about upholding standards; I’m going to do my job as long as my brother does his.

On his view during Julio Jones’ touchdown:

“I had a great view. I was on the outside and I needed coverage and I knew it was going to Julio, so I just sat back and watched. It was pretty; it was beautiful. That guy’s an alien. It’s definitely a sight to see.”

On how Julio, Sanu, and Gabriel complement each other:

“We feed off of each other. We know what our strengths are, so we just go out there, implement them and feed off of each other.”

 

RUNNING BACK TEVIN COLEMAN

On his touchdown:

“Oh yeah, definitely. Pat leaned up for me and then it was just straight ground.”

On how old he was when he started dreaming about going to the Super Bowl:

“I never dreamed about making it to the Super Bowl, but I dreamed about being here when I was about seven years old. This is unreal; this is crazy. Just thinking about it, coming from Indiana, I had never been in the bowl game, so this is nuts.”

On him going from no bowl games to the Super Bowl:

“Yes, this is crazy. I’m really excited.”

On how he’s going to celebrate:

“I’m going to celebrate some tonight and then go back to work tomorrow.”

 

KICKER MATT BRYANT

On if he was nervous going into the game:

“No. Going into the game, I was really focused on what I had to do. Just to think about how far I’ve come to get to this moment and just to relish in it, to watch the team go in there and perform the way they did, it’s a complete all-around. All three phases went out there and did their thing. It was really neat to be a part of.”

On his perspective of how rare it is to go to the Super Bowl:

I’m walking in and I see Deion and I see some of the younger guys and I think to myself that I want to tell them, ‘You know what, it’s not this easy. You don’t just come in your rookie year and go to the Super Bowl’. Everybody came in and they’ve done their job. We’ve worked on getting better at what we do and just worrying about our jobs and where we fit on this team. Like I said, I think the final score showed that.”

On the culture shift of the team in the past few games:

“I think with Dan’s philosophy, and with some of the things that we do within the building, the guys have gotten closer together. I think we are a little bit looser – you can see with all the ping pong games going on throughout the week. It’s the focus of doing your best, knowing for yourself and for the guy to the right and for the guy to the left. When you have a group of guys all doing that collectively, it shows.”

 

RUNNING BACK DEVONTA FREEMAN

On the team’s belief in itself:

“The coaches believed in us that we are one.  When you got that, it is powerful.  Then, you turn it into the Brotherhood, it is even more powerful.  I had this vision since day one.  All it took was for us to buy in, all get on the same page, and the sky is the limit.”

On knowing whether or not he scored when he was tackled at the goal line:

“I did not know because when I caught the ball, my body was right before the white marker, but my legs were in the end zone, so I did not know right away.  I am just thankful I got in.”

On what the team can achieve:

“It is just the talent and the Brotherhood.  I am telling you that it just means so much.  You have guys that will fight for each other.  The sky is the limit.”

 

FULLBACK PATRICK DIMARCO

On what the team can achieve:

“It might be one of a kind.  This is a really special team.  We have so many playmakers on offense, defense, and special teams.  It is just a great team effort.  You can contribute that to the Brotherhood, and I am just excited for Houston.”

On his excitement after winning the NFC Championship:

“Oh man, you kind of have to sit back there for a second and take it all in.  This is definitely a special time for this organization, for everyone individually, and especially for this city.  These fans were incredible today.  The Dome was rocking louder than I ever heard it rock.  I am super proud, super excited, love this team, love these guys, and I am excited we are playing in Houston.”

On celebrating the win:

“I am exhausted already from being out on the field, playing the game, and then celebrating with our families and stuff while the confetti came down.  It is on to the next one.  We still have one more to win.  The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl, not just get there.  We still have a game ahead of us, and we will hopefully take care of business.”

 

CORNERBACK BRIAN POOLE

On how far the team has come:

“We’ve come a long way, a long way. People went down and people stepped up. We earned it.”

On improving the team’s game since the two teams met in the regular season:

“Every day we are just trying to get one percent better for the guy next to us. Every play we are going to give it all we got and not let our boys down. We’ve had the energy and weren’t worried about people trying to talk about us. We just went out there trying to play ball and let people know that what we’ve got is serious.”

On his hard hits on Aaron Rodgers:

“Coach called us some pretty good calls, my job was to execute them and that’s what we did. This is my role on the team and I embrace my role. Day by day I come to work and just try to get better.”

 

LINEBACKER VIC BEASLEY JR

On the defense:

“We understand what is at stake. We had played them weeks before this but we are a better team now and we knew that if we went out and played our game, we could compete with anybody.”

On the Packers’ frustration:

“I sensed a little frustration. I saw Aaron complaining a little bit but obviously, he just wants to win and is a competitor.”

On the defense being overshadowed:

“We feel like we have potential to be a great defense. Early in the season, we weren’t playing as well but we came a long way and are now going to the Super Bowl.”

 

CORNERBACK ROBERT ALFORD

On shutting out Green Bay going into halftime:

“All we had to do was go out there and play our style of ball. We have trust in the coaches and the scheme that they put together this week. We knew coming into this week that we were well prepared and that we just had to go in there and execute.”

On putting pressure on Aaron Rodgers:

“I’ve never seen Aaron Rodgers do some of the things that he did. We probably rattled him a little bit. You saw him snatch my helmet off and that is not an Aaron Rodgers type of play. He is a great quarterback and for him to do that, I’m speechless. When he did that, all I could do was just smile and look at the scoreboard. There’s no need to retaliate.”

On the improving of the defense:

“I feel like we improve each and every week. The coaches are putting together a great game plan and it’s just up to us to go out there on Sunday and execute it.”

On the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl:

“It’s unbelievable. We are young on the back end. With it being my fourth season and being able to go to the Super Bowl, some guys have played ten years and haven’t made it. All I can say is that God is good.”

 

DEFENSIVE TACKLE JONATHAN BABINEAUX

On having a nearly perfect first half:

“We tried our best to have the perfect half and perfect game.  We take it quarter by quarter.  We try to play perfect, but there is no such thing as perfect.  We just try to do it one by one, one play at a time.”

On facing Aaron Rodgers:

“As a competitor, you always look forward to a challenge.  Of course, Aaron Rodgers gave us a great challenge coming into the game.  He has the mobility and ability to throw outside the pocket or inside the pocket.  He is a former Super Bowl Champion and MVP, so the guy knows how to win.  We had our hands full.  It is a credit to us working together as a staff, as a unit, as a defensive line, and as a defense to go out there and stop him.”

On having to face another great quarterback in the Super Bowl:

“From the start of the playoffs, we knew that we had great quarterbacks that we were going to face every week.  We are looking forward to that challenge.  That is the name of the game to go out there and compete at the highest level, but also having fun doing it.”

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