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Senior NFL Columnist

Monday Musings: Falcons soft? Try asking the Seahawks that question

One thing Falcons personnel hated to hear last week was the talk that they were soft, and Seattle was tough. That perception changed in the first half of Atlanta's 30-28 NFC Divisional Playoff victory Sunday.

Atlanta was the tougher team. You had the offensive line pushing around the Seattle front. You had Jacquizz Rodgers running over Earl Thomas on a long run and you had William Moore nailing Michael Robinson in the hole for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-inches.

"We throw it more so people say that stuff," Falcons guard Justin Blalock said. "But we can run it and knock people back when we have to do so."

Atlanta ran for 167 yards against the Seahawks, while holding Seattle's Marshawn Lynch to 46 yards on 16 carries. The Falcons were proud they held Lynch to less than 3 yards per carry. They also forced him to lose a fumble. Don't buy this idea that the Falcons are a finesse team. They can get nasty when they need to, which is something that has to play out Sunday against the 49ers, another supposed tough team.

So many Falcons players get miffed when the word soft is even mentioned. They aren't big like some teams, but they are plenty tough.

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We had the highest-scoring playoff weekend in league history -- excluding the eight-game weekend in 1982 strike year -- with 276 points scored. I thought defense wins championships. Yeah, right. Of the four teams left, here's how they ranked in the league final defensive rankings: New England was 25th, Atlanta was 24th, Baltimore was 17th and San Francisco was third. All are among the top 12 in scoring defense but give up a ton of yards.

I keep hearing how the 49ers should be happy they're going to Atlanta rather than playing the Seahawks? What? They'd be at home if they played the Seahawks. Now they have to get on a plane, fly across the country, play inside a loud building against a good team. So playing Seattle at home would be a much better option. I don't get why some don't see it. The Falcons won 13 games, have a good quarterback, can throw the ball -- a must against the 49ers -- and have some complicated defensive schemes guaranteed to give Colin Kaepernick fits.

I am not big fan of the read-option, and I do think it will get figured out this summer. But let me make this point clear: Russell Wilson is not a read-option quarterback. He is a passer. We saw that against the Falcons when he threw for 385 yards and two TDs. He is great at scrambling away from pressure to make plays, not with his legs but with his arm. He can run, as evidenced by his 60 yards rushing vs. Atlanta, but he's a passer. I saw him live for the first time Sunday and was impressed. He is smart. He is accurate. He also has a damn good arm. Seattle hit on this kid in a big way. They are set at the most important position in the league.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll botched two in-game situations. He should have kicked a field goal to make the score 13-3, rather than going for it on fourth down and short in the second quarter. You need to get points on the road. And then he really botched it at the end of the half when he called timeout after a first-down completion at the Atlanta 6 with 25 seconds left. Two shots into the end zone brought up third down, and Wilson was sacked on third down. Seattle ended up with nothing when the clock ran out. If they kick those two, and then go down and score on their opening drive of the second half, which they did, it would have put a ton of pressure on Atlanta. Instead their touchdown made the score 20-7. When they had the ball late, Seattle had to get a touchdown to take the lead because Carroll passed on the field goals. It's called game management, Pete.

What was John Fox doing at the end of regulation? You have Peyton Manning, two timeouts and 31 seconds. And he had Manning take a knee? What? Most teams, even the conservative ones, will run a draw there, see what they get, and then go from there. If they get decent yards, they call timeout. But he had Manning. Do something. Isn't that why you acquired the guy?

Good news for Jim Harbuagh: He is 10th coach to go to the conference championship game in each of his first two seasons. The bad news: The two most recent guys were Rex Ryan and Barry Switzer.

Kaepernick plays with swagger. I love that. He believes he is good and that's half the battle. I will say this: His arm is impressive. He can zing the potato. But he can't continue to run the way he did last week. He just can't.

So Tim Tebow is 1-0 in the playoffs for the Broncos and Peyton Manning is 0-1. So what? One can play, one can't. Tebow is horrible. Manning is the real deal. Big difference.

---Didn't you love Tebow's brother, Peter, saying how happy he was Denver lost on Twitter? Bet Tim didn't like it. By the way, Peter. You might want to learn a little Canadian culture if you want to follow your brother's career.

That was not an onside kick for the Falcons at the end of the Seattle game. It was a bad squib kick by Matt Bryant. Nobody is dumb enough to do that. Give Mike Smith more credit than that.

How does Rahim Moore let Jacoby Jones get behind him? How? And what was Tony Carter doing on that play? Anything in front is a good play. That was bad. At least Moore was a stand-up guy about it.

Did J.J. Watt's little logo incident have anything to do with the outcome of the Patriots-Texans game? None at all.

Are the Texans concerned now they paid Matt Schaub? I would think so. He really regressed in the second half of the season.

Falcons defensive end John Abraham tweaked his ankle against the Seahawks and played a little more than a quarter. When he was in there, it looked like he was having trouble pushing off. But the Falcons expect him to play next week against the 49ers. They need him.

I've always had big respect for Packers coordinator Dom Capers, but his plan against the 49ers was crazy. Why so much man? Why?

Corey Graham was signed to be a special-teams player by the Ravens. He has been a big surprise on the corner. Graham had a pick-six against the Broncos on Saturday. He has really done a nice job on the corner. But this week, look for him to be challenged a lot by Tom Brady.

So Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said some not-so-nice things about the Patriots. Oh, well. Is that going to motivate the Patriots? If they aren't motivated in a game to go to the Super Bowl, something is wrong with them and coach Bill Belichick. It's so stupid to think words can impact a game -- ever.

When a coach is hired, give them a chance. Remember the outrage when Smith was hired in Atlanta. Now look. He has averaged 10 wins a year and he has his team a game away from the Super Bowl. When he was hired, the move was ripped. So as teams hire young, first-year coaches, give them a chance. You never know.

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