Atlanta’s unbelievable season has landed them in Super Bowl LI. In 18 games this year, the Falcons have been a walking highlight. The offense has been the best thing since the Greatest Show on Turf, and their defense has blossomed into one full of athletes and playmakers. Seasons are not defined by singular plays or a single game, but here are the five plays that had the biggest impact on what has become an historic season.
5. Deion Jones pick-six versus the Saints
This play was amazing for several reasons. First of all, it cemented a Monday Night Football win in New Orleans, one of the toughest places the Falcons play every season. It was a win that first began to give this team swagger. From this point forward, Atlanta played every game expecting to win. It was also Deion Jones’s, a New Orleans native, first career interception and it went for a touchdown. It is a play Jones is going to look on as perhaps the most memorable of his whole career. Well, except for lifting up the Lombardi trophy of course.
4. Matt Ryan’s 500 yard passing, Julio Jones 300 yard receiving game
Not too many people expected the Falcons to come away with a Week 4 victory against the Panthers. The defending NFC champions desperately needed a win in Atlanta, but the Falcons put on an offensive clinic. Julio Jones ran wild against a Panthers secondary that no longer featured Josh Norman. This huge game by Ryan and Jones was the moment many realized this offense was something special. It also was the game were Atlanta became the favorite to take back the NFC South crown.
3. Mohammed Sanu’s game winning touchdown catch against the Packers
The Falcons headed into a Week 8 matchup with the Packers coming off two tough losses. A third tough loss in a row might have sent this team spiraling, but Matty Ice was able to save the day once again. After Aaron Rodgers threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, Matt Ryan had one last chance to save the day late in the fourth quarter. He marched the offense down the field, capping it off with a 12-yard TD pass to Mohammed Sanu with under a minute to play. It was one of the best games of the season, and reminded us just how clutch Matt Ryan has been over the course of his career.
2. Vic Beasley’s 3.5 sacks against the Broncos
Vic Beasley was already beginning to be viewed as a bust after his rookie season. His sophomore season did not get off to such a hot start either with just one sack in his first four games, but Beasley never lost confidence in himself, and in Denver he broke out. Beasley had a monster game sacking Paxton Lynch 3.5 times and setting himself up to lead the NFL in sacks. It was the introduction of Beasley as a true game changer on defense, something the Falcons severely lacked for years. People might go back and look at this game as a game that changed Beasley’s entire career. He is now one of the brightest young stars on a talented young defense that is looking to prove something on the biggest stage Sunday.
1. Eric Berry’s game winning pick-2
The whole Chiefs game was one full of mistakes for the Falcons, finishing with one of the wackiest endings in NFL history. Eric Berry’s return on the two-point conversion to give the Chiefs the lead was the first time a team lost on their own touchdown. Atlanta could have taken the loss a few ways, but it did not take long to figure out which way this team was headed after the loss.
Postgame, Ryan addressed the media to discuss the infamous pick-2. He finished with, “Ultimately, that was a tough one. I’m disappointed with it, but we’ll learn from it and try to be better moving forward.” The words are simple but they do not tell the full story. After such a heartbreaking play, you can see the confidence and focus in Ryan’s eyes as he says those words. There was such poise, and an overwhelming feeling that this team was still on the right track.
The Falcons have yet to lose since and have really yet to even been challenged. Over their last 6 games, only one has been decided by single digits, and that was a game the Falcons led 38-13 entering the fourth quarter. Atlanta has been dominant, and it is clear that heartbreaking play by Eric Berry only motivated this team more toward their ultimate goal.