Robert Woods

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

Rams Rules: LA rout Seattle 42-7 for control of division

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SEATTLE (AP) Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards and scored four total touchdowns in just 2 1/2 quarters, and the Los Angeles Rams moved to the cusp of their first division title since 2003 with a 42-7 thumping of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The matchup to determine first place in the NFC West was completely one-sided.

Los Angeles (10-4) was dominant, embarrassing Seattle into the worst loss during Pete Carroll’s eight seasons in charge.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Taking advantage of field position, the Rams scored on six of seven first-half drives, including a 21-point scoring blitz in the second quarter capped by a 57-yard TD run by Gurley on third-and-20 with less than a minute remaining in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at the break.

Gurley had 144 yards rushing in the first half, twice scoring from the 1. He added a 14-yard TD reception midway through the third quarter for a 40-0 Rams lead and spent the rest of his day watching. The 152 yards rushing were the second-best of his career.

The Rams don’t have the division wrapped up, but have a two-game lead with two weeks to play. A win against either Tennessee or San Francisco is enough for their first division title in 14 years.

Perhaps bigger than the division title was the statement made by the Rams. They didn’t just win in Seattle – a place losing its aura as the toughest to play in the league. They completely dominated the Seahawks, making a Carroll-coached team look rarely overmatched in a big game.

Seattle (8-6) is barely alive for the postseason, but it will likely need some help.

While the Seahawks don’t look playoff ready, the Rams look playoff scary, dominating the line of scrimmage and taking advantage of their first-half opportunities.

Six of the Rams seven possessions in the first half started at midfield or inside Seattle territory and they scored on all six.

The only miscue of the half was a questionable fourth-and-1 decision at the Seattle 24 where the Rams called a play-action pass that was tipped and intercepted. It was the one highlight of the first half for Seattle.

Rams QB Jared Goff didn’t need to do much, completing 14 of 21 for 120 yards and two TDs. He threw a 1-yard TD to Robert Woods in the second quarter along with his TD to Gurley.

Seattle avoided the shutout on Russell Wilson‘s 26-yard TD pass to Luke Willson late in the third quarter. But it was one of Wilson’s uglier performances. He missed key throws early when Seattle’s offense couldn’t get started. He threw a backward pass for a 23-yard loss in the second quarter when Seattle finally got to midfield. He fumbled trying to spin out of a sack. And he cost Seattle a safety being flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Wilson was 14 of 30 for 142 yards and rushed for 39 yards. He was sacked seven times.

SPECIAL IMPACT

Rams punt returner Pharoh Cooper had a big first half that helped Los Angeles build its huge lead. Cooper set up the Rams first touchdown with a 53-yard punt return to the Seattle 1 in the first quarter. He later had a 26-yard return to set up another short field for the Rams that was capped by the second of Gurley’s 1-yard TDs.

HALFTIME THUMPING

The 34-0 halftime deficit was the largest for Seattle since the 2010 season – the first under Carroll – when it trailed the New York Giants 35-0 at halftime on the way to a 41-7 loss.

It was the largest halftime lead in a road game for the Rams in franchise history.

UP NEXT

Rams: Los Angeles is at Tennessee next Sunday.

Seahawks: Seattle is at Dallas next Sunday.

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