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Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons

LOS ANGELES — The Atlanta Falcons know they must win three consecutive road games to have a chance at Super Bowl redemption.

They have already nabbed the first victory, though, spoiling a festive night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and they seem quite confident about their chances to run the table in other people’s stadiums on the way to Minneapolis.

Matt Ryan passed for 218 yards and connected with Julio Jones for an 8-yard touchdown with 5:48 to play as last season’s NFC champions advanced from the wild-card round with a 26-13 victory over the upstart Rams on Saturday night. Devonta Freeman rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons (11-6), the NFC’s No. 6 seed this year.

Atlanta went only 5-3 on the road in the regular season. Judging from a comprehensively solid showing against the hungry Rams (11-6), however, a tough division race in the NFC South this season and last season’s deep playoff run prepared the Falcons for the grind necessary to win back-to-back conference titles.

“We don’t care where we play these games, because we know it’s about us, not the crowd or the opponent,” Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen said.

The next place they’re headed is Philadelphia. The Falcons advanced to face the top-seeded Eagles this Saturday.

“Doesn’t matter where we’re going; we’re going,” Ryan said. “And that’s the most exciting part.”

Atlanta’s journey to the Super Bowl last season ended infamously with that blown 28-3 lead against New England and a double-overtime defeat. In their first playoff game since, the Falcons spoiled the Rams’ first postseason matchup in 13 years with a methodical performance derived from hard-earned experience.

Jones caught nine passes for 94 yards for Atlanta, which never trailed and won playoff games in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. The Falcons’ defense held the NFL’s highest-scoring offense to one touchdown while muzzling running back Todd Gurley and harassing quarterback Jared Goff, who went 24-for-45 in his playoff debut.

The Rams had just six players on their roster with prior postseason appearances.

“I think having gone through these situations, understanding what it’s like, the atmosphere, those kinds of things, knowing that it’s going to be tough, all those things kind of carry forward,” Ryan said. “But at the end of the day, experience or no experience, you’ve got to execute.”

A raucous crowd of 74,300 packed the Coliseum on a crisp evening for the first NFL playoff game in the nation’s second-largest city since January 1994. Los Angeles went 21 years without pro football before the Rams returned from St. Louis last season, and in 2017 the franchise emphatically ended a 13-year streak of nonwinning seasons with an inspiring run to its first division title since 2003.

Rams wide receiver Robert Woods caught nine passes for 142 yards, but rookie Cooper Kupp scored their only touchdown late in the first half. Pro Bowl kick returner Pharoh Cooper muffed a punt and fumbled a kickoff return early, leading to 10 points for the Falcons.

Atlanta dominated by controlling the ball for 37:35, patiently running it with Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Rams’ defense simply couldn’t get off the field in the third quarter, whether due to missed tackles or clever calls by the Falcons.

“You see why the Falcons are the defending NFC champs,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Certainly this is a humbling game. This is an experience that we can learn from. But I don’t think this game was too big for our guys.”

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS — The Dolphins had just scored to go up 33-9.

Only 10:21 remained.

And the two head coaches are friends.

So why did the Dolphins attempt an onside kick at that point? One that was successful, after Aterraun Verner collected Cody Parkey’s kick?

“Just playing 60 minutes,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “We’re not going to slow down. I don’t care what the score is.”

After the Dolphins won 35-9, Broncos coach Vance Joseph — Gase’s defensive coordinator last year — was asked about the play.

“That’s his choice,” Joseph said. “I tried one also.”

But it’s one thing to try one when down 19-9, as Joseph did. It’s another when the score is getting out of hand.

“I was ready to go back out there,” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “I’m trying to get a sack, a sack forced fumble. That’s the game. I’m not sitting on the sideline and saying, ‘Man why are you kicked the onside kick, just give us the ball.’ That’s loser football. If they want to kick an onside kick let them do it. We have to cover it. We have to get the ball back and we have to play. It’s the pros. If it was little league, yeah we would be upset but this is the pros.”

Parkey said the call came from the sideline and wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision he made.

“They definitely tell me what to do on every kick and I just try to go out and execute it,” Parkey said.

And the reasoning?

“I think we were just trying to win the game, honestly,” Parkey said. “Coach tells me what to do and I go ahead and do it. It’s as simple as that.”

Broncos running back C.J. Anderson was noncommittal.

“That’s Goose,” Anderson said. “I love Goose man. That’s Goose, though.”

Did it bother Anderson, who said Gase sensed “blood in the water”?

“It’s not my place to say,” he said.

Denver sportscaster Troy Renck said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said there “had to be bad blood,” possibly Gase taking a shot at John Elway, who runs Denver’s football operations.

The play was debated on NBC’s Sunday night pregame show by analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison.

“I don’t think I would do that as a coach,” Dungy said.

Harrison: “It’s the pros. Be ready for anything.”

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Grading the Dolphins for their 35-9 victory over the Broncos

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