Regular season or postseason, it's open season for the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta, the NFL’s top scoring team, has been on point in this win-or-pack-it-in phase of the NFL’s schedule. It continued its assault on the scoreboard Sunday in a 44-21 thrashing of Green Bay in the NFC championship game and one wonders if the team has peaked yet.
The 44 points was the fourth-highest total allowed by Green Bay in the postseason. Only the Arizona Cardinals (51) in the 2010 season, the St. Louis Rams (45) in 2001 and the San Francisco 49ers (45) in 2012 scored more.
Readers of this column knew full well the scoring capabilities of the Falcons ahead of Sunday’s game. Atlanta scored in more quarters (56 of 64) during the regular season than any other team. Its 0.54 points per play average led the league. It became just the third team this century to record a field goal or a touchdown on more than half (52.6 percent) of its offensive drives.
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The Falcons tallied in every quarter against the Packers. In order, they posted 10, 14, 13 and seven points.
The Falcons dialed up a points-per-play average of 0.65 on 68 offensive plays. They averaged nearly a point per play in the second half in counting 20 points on just 22 plays.
Most impressively, Atlanta maximized its opportunities. Not only did it score on more than half its drives, it equaled the best effort of any team in the playoffs this century.
The Falcons had nine possessions. They scored touchdowns on six advances and kicked a field goal on a seventh.
That percentage of 77.8 was a season high for the team. It surpassed the 72.7 percent (8 of 11) posted in overwhelming the Buccaneers 43-28 on Nov. 3.
So high was this number that it has been equaled just twice in the last 17 postseasons. That’s a stretch of 186 playoff games.
The Oakland Raiders of 2001 were first. They scored on seven of nine drives in beating the Jets 38-24.
The 2003 Indianapolis Colts were second. They also scored on seven of nine drives in trouncing the Broncos 41-10.
Even attaining 70 percent is rare. Nine teams have done it since 2000.
On that short list are the Packers. Green Bay made good on seven of 10 advances in toppling the Falcons 48-21 en route to the Super Bowl in 2011.
Payback can sting.
Atlanta scored on four of its first five drives Sunday. It came up short only once, that after Taylor Gabriel’s fumble led to third-and-long.
The Falcons opened the second half with three consecutive touchdown drives. They punted for a second and final time with two minutes, 43 seconds remaining after five straight running plays had taken them to the Packers’ 40-yard line.
Atlanta secured at least one first down on each of its offensive possessions. That may not appear noteworthy, but that has happened only six times in the playoffs since 2000.
For Green Bay, this inability to prevent points is becoming problematic. In 40 playoff games from 1936 through 2008, every Packers opponent scored on fewer than half of its offensive drives. In 16 postseason games since, six teams have bettered 50 percent.
In moving up and down the Georgia Dome, the Falcons gouged Green Bay as never before in a number of other ways. Some of these “bests” occurred as Atlanta vaulted to a 24-0 halftime lead.
Atlanta amassed 325 yards before halftime. While that was not a record for teams facing the Packers, the 15 plays of 10 or more yards it produced was, breaking the previous high of 12 put up by the New York Giants (2011 season) and 49ers (2012).
Quarterback Matt Ryan attempted 32 first-half passes. His workload against Green Bay surpassed that of previous record holder Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots, who fired 29 against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI.
Atlanta racked up 18 passing first downs in the opening two quarters. The Packers had never given up more than 11 that quickly before.
And finally, the Falcons converted 10 of 13 third downs overall. That percentage of 76.9 broke the previous high of 61.5 by San Francisco in 2012.
Atlanta wasn’t the only team to score on more than half its drives this past weekend. The Patriots (7 of 11) also did so in beating the Steelers 36-17.
Fifty teams have surpassed 50 percent in the playoffs since 2000. Crossing that threshold produces victories as those teams went 46-4.
nflgsis.com served as a reference for this story.
Driven to score
Since 2000, teams that scored (touchdowns or field goals) on 70 percent or more of their drives in a playoff game.
Pct. Team Date
.778 Falcons Jan. 22, 2017
.778 Raiders Jan. 12, 2002
.778 Colts Jan. 4, 2004
.750 Colts Jan. 11, 2004
.750 Broncos Jan. 19, 2014
.700 Jets Jan. 4, 2003
.700 Colts Jan. 9, 2005
.700 Cardinals Jan. 10, 2010
.700 Packers Jan. 15, 2011