NFL playoffs: Falcons trounce Seahawks to advance to NFC title game

The Atlanta Falcons are dangerous. This isn't some earth-shattering revelation, but unlike the Patriots or Packers or, say, the Seahawks, the Falcons don't make national news on a weekly basis. So until they trounced the Seahawks, 36-20, on Saturday afternoon, there were probably a lot of football fans who hadn't gotten a good look at the NFL's most explosive offense.

Well, we were all witness to what happened in the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks, known for a fantastic defense and irrepressible quarterback Russell Wilson, had no answers for what Matt Ryan and this offense perpetrated against them.

It was as complete and thorough a beatdown as you'll see, and in addition to putting the remaining playoff teams on notice, Ryan made as convincing a case as you'll see for why he's the undisputed MVP.

Seattle's defense was steamrolled

The last time these two teams met, back in Week 6 in Seattle, the Seahawks' defense got after Ryan. When it was over, Ryan was sacked four times, hurried on countless other occasions, and committed two turnovers. The Seahawks scored nine unanswered points in the fourth quarter to eke out a 26-24 victory.

On Saturday, a depleted Seahawks defense lost cornerbacks DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane, and were without pass rusher Michael Bennett for part of the first half. And while Ryan was sacked three times, he was untouched on his 37 other dropbacks, and his dismantling of Seattle's secondary was surgical.

And on the rare occasions when the Seahawks tried to come after Ryan it blew up in their face.

Behold this third-down bum-rush blitz late in the third quarter:

Fun fact: Ryan came into the came with a 118 passer rating against the blitz, including a completion rate of 60 percent, 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

Not-so-fun-fact: The Seahawks really, really, really miss safety Earl Thomas, who broke his leg last month, leaving a gaping void in the middle of Seattle's secondary.

Against a lesser opponent, perhaps the Seahawks could mask their defensive deficiencies (we feel weird just writing that), but the Falcons are not a lesser opponent. In fact, they might be the best team in the NFL.

Seriously, consider what this Falcons offense has done

Here was Ryan's final line: 26 of 37, 338 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers, 125.7 passer rating. This is not an anomaly. Ryan was the league's best regular-season passer on a per-play basis and in terms of total value, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. In those 16 games, he had 38 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, and threw for 4,944 yards with a 117.1 passer rating. Only twice all season did Ryan complete fewer than 60 percent of his throws, and in his last three regular-season games, he completed 74, 82 and 75 percent of his passes. On Sunday he "slipped" to 70 percent in one of the most efficient playoff performances you'll ever see.

It was like this all afternoon:

We'll admit, we've been on the Tom Brady MVP bandwagon for weeks, partly because he's been, well, Tom Brady (he has just two interceptions all season), but also because he bounced back from that silly month-long Deflategate experience like it never happened and looked more like a spry 29-year-old than a legit 39-year-old. Then there's Aaron Rodgers, who has dragged the Packers to their current seven-game winning streak after a 4-6 start. He deserves to be in the mix as well.

But Ryan has to win it. He's played as such a high level for the last four months, which neither Brady nor Rodgers can say.

Need more convincing? How about this:

So what's next for the Seahawks?

Here's a tweet that some people might categorize as alarmist:

But it's a fair question, not only because of what just transpired in Atlanta, but because the 2016 season has been an eye-opening one for a Seahawks team that, during the Russell Wilson era, was built around a strong running game and and even stronger defense.

From 2012-15, Seattle ran the ball 56 percent of the time. In 2016 without Marshawn Lynch, Seattle ran the ball just 40 percent of the time. The results: Wilson took way too many hits behind a suspect offensive line, the running game never found a rhythm, and the offense sputtered. The unit ranked 17th overall (16th in passing, 23rd in rushing) and the offensive line, which ranked 25th in pass-blocking and 26th in run-blocking, had just about everything to do with that.

Those problems seemed to be mitigated on the very first drive against the Falcons. It lasted nearly nine minutes, took 14 plays (nine of which were runs, by the way), covered 89 yards and ended in a touchdown.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks' offense would only see the ball for about 18 minutes for the rest of the game.

There's also this:

And this:

And one to grow on:

We really can't say enough about the Falcons' offense

After the Seahawks marched down the field on that opening drive, the Falcons answered with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive of their own.

The Falcons are also immune to poor field position. Ryan and the offense began their final drive of the first half on their one-yard line. They would score a touchdown before intermission, marking the 11th time this year they have scored a touchdown after starting a drive inside their own 10-yard line.

Oh, and this offense, over the course of the season, scored the eighth points ever in league history.

Speaking of history ...

... Ryan and the Falcons rewrote it on Saturday. He came into the game with a 1-4 playoff record, and even when the Falcons led at the half and had a 16-point third-quarter lead, people were conditioned to not count the Seahawks out.

This about says it all

This pretty much sums up the final month of the season for the Seahawks:

And this serves as a microcosm for Saturday afternoon:

If you're so inclined, you can relive all of the magic of the Seahawks-Falcons live-blog below (click here to reload if necessary):

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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