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# Dirty Birds
The path to the Super Bowl - Atlanta Falcons
The six games that shaped Atlanta’s 2016 season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 @ 24 Atlanta Falcons – 11 September 2016

David Goldman / AP/Press Association Images David Goldman / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

WHEN YOU CONSIDER what was to come from the Atlanta offence this season, it seems strange that the opening game saw them score just one offensive touchdown when Matt Ryan hooked up with Julio Jones for a 25-yard third quarter score.

However, despite getting the ball back with 1.52 remaining, Ryan was only able to claim one first down before a potential game-levelling drive spluttered to a halt and the 0-1 Falcons looked very much the same team that had missed out on the playoffs three years running.

Atlanta Falcons 23 @ 16 Denver Broncos – 09 October 2017

Joe Mahoney / AP/Press Association Images Joe Mahoney / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

After three high-scoring wins over the Raiders, Saints and Panthers, the Falcons rolled into Denver to face the previously undefeated Broncos in week five with the home side’s defence — at that stage — looking even better than the Super Bowl winning version.

However, with Paxton Lynch starting his first-ever NFL game, Atlanta didn’t need to be at their best offensively and relied on Tevin Coleman — who played despite having the sickle-cell trait — to do the bulk of the work with 163 yards through the air and on the ground.

Atlanta Falcons 24 @ 26 Seattle Seahawks – 16 October 2017

Stephen Brashear / AP/Press Association Images Stephen Brashear / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

The schedule was rough to Atlanta in the middle of the season so it was little surprise that they were unable to put in back-to-back road wins against two of the league’s best defences.

However, it looked for all the world that the Falcons would get the win after Ryan blitzed the Seahawks secondary for 21 unanswered points but, again, despite being down just two and getting the ball back with 1.54 remaining, he was unable to lead a game-winning drive and his side fell to 4-2.

Green Bay Packers 32 – 33 Atlanta Falcons – 30 October 2017

After losing to the beat-up Chargers at home a week earlier, fans of the now 4-3 Falcons could have been forgiven if they’d have felt this was going to be another one of those seasons.

However, this was the game where Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan really showed what the offence was all about and the latter’s game-winning throw with 34 seconds left on the clock was the result of a beautifully designed play-call.

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Atlanta Falcons 15 @ 24 Philadelphia Eagles – 13 November 2016

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Michael Perez / AP/Press Association Images Michael Perez / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

I include this game because it was the last time the Falcons were held to less than 28 points this season — and, indeed, they’ve only been held to less than 33 one other time — and serves as something of a blueprint for how the seemingly unstoppable offence can be stopped.

The Eagles controlled the clock that day, winning the time of possession battle by a massive 16 minutes and 20 seconds and playing hard on defence on third and fourth down with the Falcons converting just 16% of them.

But it’s not like Atlanta didn’t have their chances that day. After all, they’d 12 offensive drives compared to their season average of 10.9.

Green Bay Packers 21 @ 44 Atlanta Falcons – 22 January 2017

John Bazemore / AP/Press Association Images John Bazemore / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

Since the defeat to the Eagles, Atlanta are 8-1, scoring a phenomenal 300 points in those games and, even more impressively considering their woes on defence, conceding just 164 or 18.2 points per game.

In the NFC Championship Game, the Falcons played brilliantly on both sides of the ball, confusing the Packers with their game-plan on offence and defence and rightfully taking their place in Super Bowl LI.

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