The Atlanta Falcons accounted for the error-prone Green Bay Packers to advance to the NFL Super Bowl.
Atlanta capitalised on a number of Packers mistakes to triumph 44-21 on Sunday and power into Super Bowl LI.
When the Packers left Wisconsin for the NFC title game, they were delayed by fog. When they got to the Georgia Dome on Sunday, it looked like they were lost in a fog.
It will be the second Super Bowl appearance for the Falcons, who last played in Super Bowl XXXII.
The Packers had absolutely no answer for the Falcons' offence, which moved the ball at will as Matt Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns.
Ryan was nearly picked off a couple of times, but Packers defensive backs Marwin Evans and LaDarius Gunter mistimed jumps late in the first half. Evans, especially, badly mistimed his jump on Ryan's throw to the end zone. Evans, an undrafted rookie from Utah State, was only playing because fellow rookie Kentrell Brice, who impressed last week against the Dallas Cowboys, was injured on the opening kick-off.
Instead of stopping the Falcons with a minute remaining in the half, the drive continued and ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones with seven seconds to play in the second quarter.
The Falcons (13-5) picked up right where they left off against the Packers in October, when Mohamed Sanu scored the game-winning touchdown in a 33-32 victory. Sanu scored the first touchdown on Sunday as the Falcons capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a two-yard flip from Ryan.
Doing most of the damage for the Falcons was Jones, who absolutely had his way with Gunter. Jones caught nine passes for 180 yards and two scores. He also drew multiple defensive holding calls on Gunter. Despite one of those holding calls, Gunter was still unable to stop Jones from exploding for a 73-yard touchdown on Atlanta's second play from scrimmage in the second half to give the Falcons a 31-0 lead.
— NFL (@NFL) January 22, 2017
The Falcons marched 80 yards on 13 plays on the game's opening series, which ended with a two-yard pass to Sanu.
The Packers (12-7) easily moved down the field, thanks to a pair of catches by Jordy Nelson, but the drive stalled inside the Falcons 30-yard line. Out trotted Packers kicker Mason Crosby for a 41-yard field goal attempt. Crosby had made an NFL-record 23 straight field goals in the postseason, but his kick against the Falcons on Sunday went wide right. It was the first miss by an NFL kicker this postseason after 33 successful attempts.
The Falcons took a 10-0 lead on their next series and the Packers again responded by marching down the field. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski had ploughed his way through defenders for a 12-yard gain, but was stripped by Jalen Collins inside the 10-yard line. The Falcons fumbled twice, but recovered each.
The Falcons scored on the ensuing possession and held a 17-0 lead after Ryan's 14-yard touchdown run, his first rushing touchdown since 2012.
As great as the Falcons offence was, Atlanta's defence was also superb. Aaron Rodgers, Ryan's top competitor for league MVP, was under constant pressure as the Falcons pinned their ears back with the large lead. Rodgers was sacked twice and went 27 of 45 for 287 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Rodgers was also the team's leading rusher with 46 yards as the rest of the team totalled 53 yards.
The Packers were also decimated by injuries and it started with Brice. The Packers also lost defensive back Micah Hyde (shoulder), linebacker Jake Ryan (shoulder), running back Ty Montgomery (ribs), and offensive linemen Lane Taylor (knee) and T.J. Lang (knee).
SOARING TO HOUSTON
It might not have mattered, even with a fully healthy Packers team, the way the Falcons played. It was pick your poison against the Packers defence.
Ryan will likely be the NFL MVP and played like it on Sunday, completing passes to eight different receivers.
"It's exciting," Ryan told Fox Sports. "We were great today in all three phases. It feels pretty good.
"I'm just proud of the way we competed."
The Falcons were the NFL's highest scoring team this season and set a franchise record with 540 points scored during the regular season. Atlanta averaged 40 points in its two playoff victories and will be a dangerous team for either the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl at Houston's NRG Stadium.