The past two seasons have been trying for the Atlanta Falcons. Once considered the class of the NFC South and a conference powerhouse, the Falcons soared to two #1 overall seeds in the NFL in three years. However, the last two seasons, they’ve gone just 10-22, a losing record that resulted in the firing of former Coach of the Year Mike Smith. But that all could have been avoided Sunday– the Falcons controlled their own destiny. If they had beaten the Carolina Panthers at home in what was essentially the NFC South play-in game, Atlanta would have been playoff bound, albeit with a 7-9 record. They had home field advantage, weapons on offense, and their franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan, who is affectionately nicknamed “Matty Ice” for his cool performances during big games.
Ryan had one of his finest statistical seasons to date in 2014. He tossed for 28 touchdowns, completed 66% of his passes, and had a total quarterback rating of 67.0, good for 9th best in the NFL, per ESPN. But on Sunday, Ryan could only muster a quarterback rating of 15.3, which was good for 29th out of the 34 quarterbacks who competed on Sunday. He imploded, throwing for two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. Carolina’s defense put up 21 points in what was a 34-3 rout. The Panthers are headed to the playoffs. Ryan and the Falcons are headed home.