Falcons Report Card: NFC Championship Game
Here are the Falcons' grades from Atlanta's deflating 28-24 defeat to the 49ers in Sunday's NFC title game:
Ryan (396 yards passing, three TDs) had a white-hot start to this championship bout, throwing for 172 yards and two touchdowns (both to Julio Jones) in the opening 17 minutes. Plus, Atlanta topped San Francisco in yards passing, total yards, first downs, total plays and time of possesssion for the entire game.
But Ryan was far from perfect on this day. For the final three quarters, he was a tad skittish in the pocket, needing extra time to set his feet and occasionally failing to hit receivers in stride during routes. Plus, the Falcons lost the turnover battle, 2-1.
Speaking of miscues, the blame for Ryan's lone interception might have been a 50-50 proposition with Roddy White, who apparently slipped in the final stages of the route. But the lost fumble off the shotgun snap falls exclusively on the quarterback. It killed a productive drive that ended just outside the Falcons' red zone.
Bottom line: Ryan enjoyed a slew of scintillating moments in his inaugural title game, namely Jones's second touchdown in the left corner of the end zone. Unfortunately, though, his legacy also includes a batted-down pass (second down) and questionable short toss to White on fourth down -- ending the Falcons' last complete drive. Grade: B+
In one respect, Turner accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Falcons' run production. On the flip side, he only finished with 30 yards against the Niners. To be fair, a lower-leg injury halted any second-half momentum Turner might have enjoyed for Atlanta ... but those are the breaks. Even if his ailment was just a sprain. Grade: C
Rodgers only accrued 20 yards (on seven carries), but two of his runs yielded first downs for the unbalanced Falcons. Spinning things forward, this outing may have afforded team executives a glimpse of a future that might not include Michael Turner next season. If that's the case, it's hard to envision Rodgers (764 total yards, two TDs this year) as an every-down, go-to back. Grade: C
Snelling's 12-yard run in the third quarter -- after Turner's injury -- produced a crucial first down for the Falcons. Without that effort, he likely would have collected an "incomplete" grade here. Grade: B
Jones (11 catches, 13 targets, 182 yards, two TDs) enjoyed perhaps his finest day as a pro, keeping drives alive with medium-range catches and exhibiting absurd athletic grace on both touchdowns.
As a bonus, on the play when Jones took out the unsuspecting Georgia Dome security officer (a non-catch), Julio had the unwitting decency to clip the official around the calves area -- instead of taking him out at the knees or ankles (a recipe for injury disaster).
At the time of this writing, the dome officer appears to be OK. Grade: A
White (seven catches, 14 targets, 100 yards) dutifully accepted a secondary role to Jones against the Niners, but he also had a chance to save the Falcons' season on the fourth-down incompletion in the final minutes. Was he bumped by 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman on that opportunity? Sure. But he was also in position to make the reception ... and keep the Super Bowl quest alive. Grade: B+
Accentuating the positive here, Douglas caught all three of his targeted balls on Sunday. However, he also stumbled a bit on the 22-yard reception in the fourth quarter, precluding him from dashing to the 10- or 15-yard line after his defender fell to the ground. (Jim Harbaugh's post-replay tantrum was unbecoming of a championship coach. Even Moises Alou thought it was over the top.)
If Douglas catches that third-down pass cleanly ... perhaps he takes it all the way. Grade: B
Gut-wrenching loss aside, Gonzalez finished his Hall of Fame-bound career on a redoubtable high note, catching eight balls for 78 yards and one touchdown -- a score that vaulted Atlanta's lead to 24-14 and seemingly halted any San Francisco momentum.
From the couch of my Championship Sunday viewing party, it seemed like every Gonzo reception resulted in either a first down or TD.
Not bad for an NFL swan song. Grade: A
From a containment standpoint, the Falcons essentially held Niners QB Colin Kaepernick (254 total yards, one TD) in check. That was Job No. 1 for a unit that had trouble stopping quarterbacks Cam Newton (twice), Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson during the regular season and playoffs.
But when push came to proverbial shove on Sunday, the Atlanta defense couldn't deny Frank Gore (90 yards, two TDs) or tight end Vernon Davis (five catches, 106 yards, one TD) during crunch time. In my mind, the Gore-Davis pairing played the greatest roles in San Francisco's comeback victory.
Extra credit: The Falcons should be saluted for forcing the Michael Crabtree turnover inside the 1-yard line. For a few moments, it had the appearance of a championship-altering event. Grade: B-
Bryant (one field goal, three extra points) didn't play a major role in Atlanta's loss, despite being perfect on all four kicks. The hero one week (game-winning field goal vs. Seattle) ... becomes an interested bystander the next. Grade: B