Atlanta secures its playoff berth
Qwest Field lived up to its rowdy reputation Sunday, at least to start.
During the early stages of Atlanta’s 34-18 victory against the Seahawks, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan marveled at Seattle’s deafening crowd.
“The fans here were great today,” Ryan said. “They were loud most of the first half.”
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Excitement and exhilaration didn’t last much longer than that, however. Taking advantage of three turnovers in the third quarter, Atlanta used a crowd-demoralizing 34-3 run to earn its third road victory in as many weeks.
With their eighth consecutive triumph overall, the 12-2 Falcons proved why they’ve been the best team in the NFC.
It was evident in both their dominance against the Seahawks, and in the unexpectedly hushed stadium in the second half.
“We were able to silence them,” defensive end Jamaal Anderson said.
Added Ryan: “That’s what you want to do when you’re on the road — you want to make some plays to try and take them out of it so you can communicate a little bit better.”
A lofty goal, to be sure. Especially in a venue reputed for disturbing opposing offenses and drawing an NFL-best 103 false-start penalties since 2005.
It worked. Atlanta didn’t jump once.
“I think we’ve got a special group around here; we just never lose focus,” Falcons receiver Roddy White said.
That resolve was seen in a steady, workmanlike effort on offense that played a huge role in taking the air out of Qwest Field. On its first possession, Atlanta converted a pair of short fourth-downs situations — perhaps with the help of some generous spots — to match Seattle’s opening score and tie the score at 7-7.
Then, just before the half, Atlanta took a 17-10 lead after methodically marching down the field and scoring on a 24-yard reception by Michael Jenkins on a perfect toss by Ryan, who took a vicious hit upon his release.
“Getting that touchdown right before the half was very big for our team in taking that momentum into the third quarter,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Atlanta’s defense took it from there, forcing turnovers on Seattle’s first three possessions in the second half, which included perhaps the game’s biggest play.
With 10:12 left in the third quarter, Anderson forced a fumble while sacking Matt Hasselbeck in the end zone and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux recovered the ball for a touchdown.
“I think that took the life out of them,” said Anderson, a reference to the Seahawks but equally relevant to the crowd.
Only the introduction of Seattle’s backup quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, drew an audible response from the fans in the second half.
With two weeks left in the regular season, Atlanta is soaring toward the postseason. The Falcons secured a playoff berth Sunday and can clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage next week against division rival New Orleans at home.
The challenge, like the usually-raucous Qwest Field presented Sunday, is a welcome one.
“Our team is big enough and tough enough to go out there and handle any situation out there and come out with a win,” running back Michael Turner said.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org