Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans both triumph in the NFL play-offs
Falcons are 26-13 victors at Los Angeles Rams, while Titans come from behind to defeat Kansas City Chiefs.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons showed the upstart Los Angeles Rams what play-off poise is all about.
Ryan passed for 218 yards and hit Julio Jones for an eight-yard touchdown with 5:48 to play, and the defending NFC champion Falcons advanced from the wild-card round with a methodical 26-13 victory over the Rams on Saturday night.
This came after earlier on Saturday the Tennessee Titans had come from 18 points behind to win 22-21 at the Kansas City Chiefs.
Devonta Freeman rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons (11-6), who spoiled the Rams' first play-off game in 13 years while showing off the post-season poise they earned from last season's journey to the Super Bowl.
"This game's kind of the way our season's been, tough," Ryan said. "We had to grind it out.
"Defence played really well. Offensively, we're going against a great defense tonight. We ran the football, our guys played up front so hard, and then in the second half we started to get it going a little bit. So, I'm just proud of it."
Atlanta never trailed at the Coliseum while winning play-off games in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.
The Falcons advanced to face the top-seeded Eagles on January 13 in Philadelphia.
"Doesn't matter where we're going, we're going," Ryan said. "And that's the most exciting part."
Jones caught nine passes for 94 yards as Atlanta's offence chewed up the clock and field position.
The Falcons jumped to an early 13-0 lead while capitalising on two early mistakes by Pharoh Cooper, the Rams' Pro Bowl kick returner.
The Falcons' defence did more than enough to slow down the NFL's highest-scoring offense, harassing Jared Goff into a 24-for-45 performance in his play-off debut.
"We knew it was going to take all four quarters," Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said. "All my guys were ready to fight 'til the end, and it was great."
Robert Woods caught nine passes for 142 yards for the NFC West champion Rams (11-6), but rookie Cooper Kupp scored the Rams' only touchdown late in the first half.
Atlanta held MVP candidate Todd Gurley to 101 yards rushing — just 43 in the first three quarters — and four receptions for a mere 10 yards.
The Falcons ruined a celebratory night for the Rams, who rebounded from a rough homecoming season in 2016 with an impressive debut year under 31-year-old Sean McVay, the youngest head coach to reach the play-offs in NFL history.
Meanwhile, Marcus Mariota did everything to help the Tennessee Titans advance in the play-offs, throwing two touchdown passes, running for crucial first downs and providing the spark needed to rally from a 21-3 half time hole.
He even caught one of his own touchdown passes.
It all added up to a heart-stopping 22-21 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, the first post-season win for the Titans in 14 years and one that will provide some relief — for the week, at least — for embattled coach Mike Mularkey and his side.
"Special," said Mariota, whose 205 yards passing included the go-ahead 22-yard strike to Eric Decker with six minutes left. "I'm part of a great team. I'm part of a group of guys that really believe in each other. And it's something special."
Now, the Titans will find out Sunday whether they are headed to New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers next.
Derrick Henry added a career-high 156 yards rushing and another score for Tennessee (10-7), while a defence fileted by Alex Smith and the Chiefs (10-7) in the first half pitched a shutout in the second half — dooming the Kansas City franchise to another post-season defeat.
The Chiefs have not won a home play-off game since January 1994.
"I'm in shock," Smith said. "The swing at half time to the final whistle, definitely a shock. Yeah. Didn't feel like we played up to how we're capable of playing and that's disappointing."
Updated: January 7, 2018 09:57 AM