For the better part of this season, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the entire Atlanta Falcons squad have been an NFL afterthought. The talk early on centered on Tom Brady coming back from his Deflategate suspension. Then Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys dominated the discussion.
That gave way to Odell Beckham and the Giants wide receivers chilling on a party boat in Miami before facing the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. The spotlight then hit Aaron Rodgers after his phenomenal performance in the divisional round, which made Cowboys fan-tool Skip Bayless cry like Viola Davis playing Rose Lee Maxson in Fences.
Now, finally, folks outside of Atlanta have finally gotten wind of what's really real in the NFC, and it's about a bunch of Dirty Birds crapping all over everybody on their way to this year's Super Bowl.
Despite being the likely NFL regular season MVP, most folks weren't giving Ryan the props he deserved this year. Not any longer. The Falcons opened the game the same way they'd smash for the entire afternoon, driving 80 yards in 13 plays and culminating with Ryan scrambling away from pressure to flip a shovel pass to Mohamed Sanu for a 2-yard touchdown. From there, the floodgates opened.
The Falcons' dominant 44-21 victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday showcased Ryan at his absolute best. He masterfully directed the league's top-scoring offense to yet another high-powered performance while completing 27 of his 38 pass attempts for 392 yards and four touchdowns.
Matty Ice connected with eight different receivers, making mincemeat of the Packers defense. The main recipient of his largesse was Jones, who hauled in nine passes for 180 yards.
With an offense as dangerous as a runaway freight train, it's easy to lose sight of Atlanta young, effective, opportunistic defense, which set the tone of the day when cornerback Jalen Collins stripping Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski in the red zone and Collins recovering the fumble in the end zone. The turnover led to a Ryan touchdown run and effectively ended any intrigue on how this game would turn out as the Falcons jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
From there on out, it was over.
The Falcons led 24-0 at halftime against the Pack(12-6), who walked in as the the league's hottest team after having won eight games in a row. The game was a wrap after Atlanta's second offensive snap of the second half, when Jones hailed in Ryan's pass, broke a tackle and stiff armed Damarious Randall into oblivion en route to 73-yard touchdown.
All year long they've deserved it, but maybe now, with all of the pretenders out of the way in the NFC, the Falcons can finally get the respect they deserve.
"I didn't practice that much throughout the week," Jones said after the game, "but today I came out and gave it all I had."
The Falcons averaged nearly 34 points a game during the regular season and if anyone thought they'd fall off, they served notice that they were a squad to be reckoned with in the playoffs this year after smoking the Seattle Seahawks and their Legion of Boom "D" 36-20 last weekend in the divisional round.
Atlanta (13-5) will face either New England or Pittsburgh on February 5th at the Super Bowl in Houston. It will be only the second Super Bowl appearance in the Falcons' 51-year history.