Blake Countess

Ryan leads Falcons’ 26-13 playoff win over upstart LA Rams

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons showed the upstart Los Angeles Rams what playoff poise is all about.

Ryan passed for 218 yards and hit Julio Jones for an 8-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.

Devonta Freeman rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons (11-6), who spoiled the Rams’ first playoff game in 13 years while showing off the postseason 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. Defense 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 playoff games in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.

The Falcons advanced to face the top-seeded Eagles on Jan. 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 offense chewed up the clock and field position. The Falcons jumped to an early 13-0 lead while capitalizing on two early mistakes by Pharoh Cooper, the Rams’ Pro Bowl kick returner.

The Falcons’ defense did more than enough to slow down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, harassing Jared Goff into a 24-for-45 performance in his playoff 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 outstanding debut year under 31-year-old Sean McVay, the youngest head coach to reach the playoffs in NFL history.

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 early 1994. Los Angeles went 21 years without pro football before the Rams returned last season, and the franchise emphatically ended a 13-year streak of non-winning seasons this fall with an inspiring run to the Rams’ first division title since 2003.

But the Falcons have been here before, and they showed it.

Although the Falcons’ offense took a step back in production this season, Atlanta chipped away at the Rams’ defense throughout the Coliseum return of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who coached USC here until 2015.

Ryan was methodical under relentless pressure from All-Pro lineman Aaron Donald, repeatedly avoiding trouble and making big throws. Freeman rushed for 66 yards, and Mohamed Sanu had a key 52-yard gain on a fourth-quarter screen pass while finishing with four catches for 75 yards.

Cooper is headed to the Pro Bowl after his outstanding regular season as a kick returner, but the second-year pro’s misadventures in his playoff debut cost the Rams dearly.

He muffed a punt that bounced off teammate Blake Countess in the first quarter, and Bryant subsequently hit the Falcons’ first field goal. After Bryant’s second field goal later in the quarter, Cooper got stripped by Damontae Kazee during a kickoff return at the Rams 32, and the Falcons drove for Freeman’s short TD run.

The Rams’ offense struggled to get moving, but finally figured it out late in the first half. Goff made several sharp throws on a 79-yard drive ending in Kupp’s TD catch.

Los Angeles then got the ball back and mounted another quick drive, but settled for Sam Ficken‘s first field goal and a 13-10 halftime deficit.

The Falcons’ offense got back to its methodical work in the second half, mounting two clock-chewing drives ending in field goals by Bryant. The Rams’ defense simply couldn’t get off the field, whether due to missed tackles or clever playcalling by the Falcons.

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to 19-13 with 10:49 to play, but the Falcons made another drive highlighted by that beautiful screen pass from a blitz-avoiding Bryant to Sanu.

Jones then caught the sixth playoff TD pass of his career. Goff drove the Rams deep into Falcons territory, but L.A. turned it over on down at the Atlanta 5 with 2:05 to play. The Falcons stopped the Rams again on downs at midfield with 1:08 left.

UP NEXT

After the Falcons’ defensive performance against Goff, they look like a potential problem for the powerful Eagles without quarterback Carson Wentz in the early Saturday divisional playoff game.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Eagles lose Wentz to injury, beat Rams 43-35 to win NFC East

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LOS ANGELES — Carson Wentz threw for 291 yards and four touchdowns before leaving with a knee injury and Jake Elliott kicked the go-ahead 33-yard field goal with 3:45 left for the Philadelphia Eagles, who beat the Los Angeles Rams 43-35 in a thriller Sunday to clinch the NFC East title.

Two sources familiar with the injury tell The Associated Press that doctors believe Wentz has torn his left anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the season and playoffs.

Wentz needs an MRI to confirm the severity of the injury. Both people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

Wentz was hit hard as he dived into the end zone on a play that was called back because of holding. He stayed in the game and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery four plays later to give the Eagles a 31-28 lead.

Nick Foles replaced Wentz on the next drive for Philadelphia (11-2).

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The NFC West-leading Rams (9-4) then went up 35-31 on Todd Gurley‘s second short TD run.

Elliott kicked a 41-yard field goal to pull the Eagles to 35-34. His go-ahead field goal was set up when Chris Long, a second-round draft pick of the then-St. Louis Rams in 2008, had a strip-sack of Jared Goff, with Rodney McLeod recovering.

Elliott kicked a 54-yarder, but the Eagles got an automatic first down on a personal foul on Aaron Donald. Elliott kicked the winner four plays later.

The game ended on a crazy play, when Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham grabbed a lateral by Tavon Austin out of the air on the game’s last play and scored what was ruled a 16-yard fumble return.

The Eagles clinched their first division title since 2013.

WENTZ AND GOFF

This was the eighth time in the Super Bowl era that quarterbacks taken No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the same draft squared off. Goff was the first pick overall in 2016, followed by Wentz.

Goff threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns.

Wentz bounced back from throwing an interception on the game’s third play to throw touchdown passes on the Eagles’ next three possessions for a 21-7 lead. He threw a 5-yarder to tight end Brent Celek and a beautifully threaded 20-yarder to Trey Burton in the first quarter, and then another nicely thrown scoring pass to Burton in the second quarter, this one for 11 yards.

HISTORY

This game marked just the eighth time in the Super Bowl era that quarterbacks taken No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the same draft squared off. Goff was the first pick overall in 2016, followed by Wentz. The No. 1 pick is now 5-3 in such matchups.

MOMENTUM SWING

The Rams scored twice in a span of less than two minutes early in the third quarter to take a 28-24 lead. The big momentum swing came when Blake Countess returned a blocked punt 16 yards for a touchdown. The punt was blocked by Michael Thomas, and the ball bounced right to Countess in stride.

Earlier, Goff capped the opening drive of the second half with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins.

INJURIES

Eagles: Aside from Wentz, starting tight end Zach Ertz missed the game with a concussion.

Rams: CB Kayvon Webster, who intercepted Wentz on the game’s third play, was taken off the field on a cart with an ankle injury late in the first quarter and didn’t return. Tackle Andrew Whitworth also suffered an ankle injury.

UP NEXT

Eagles: At New York Giants on Sunday.

Rams: At Seattle on Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL