ATLANTA - Just a few hours before those on the east coast ushered out 2017, the Falcons closed the regular season with a 22-10 win over the Carolina Panthers to put themselves in the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Led by Devonta Freeman's receiving, a stingy defense and Matt Bryant's five field goals, the reigning NFC champions will have the chance to defend their crown, but this time, they will have to do so as the No. 6 seed, meaning Atlanta will play road games for as long as it remains alive.
Freeman had nine receptions and the Falcons' only touchdown, which came on the opening drive of the game.
Bryant kicked five field goals to account for the other scoring for Atlanta, including a 56-yarder in the fourth quarter. He's successfully made 34 of 39 attempts this season.
Defensive lineman Grady Jarrett was constantly in the Carolina backfield throughout the game. His performance (sack and three tackles for loss) helped the Atlanta secondary come up with three interceptions, including the first career pick for second-year safety Keanu Neal.
It all adds up to the Falcons' sixth playoff berth in the last 10 seasons. Now, they will begin their postseason quest in Los Angeles against the NFC West champion Rams on Saturday at 8:15 pm. L.A. had an 11-5 record this season under first-year head coach (and Atlanta high school football state champion quarterback) Sean McVay.
These teams just played a little over a year ago. The Falcons won at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 42-14 on Dec. 11, 2016.
But then, the Rams were near the end of a 4-12 disaster of a season and Atlanta was the NFL's highest-scoring team. This time, L.A. enters the playoffs as the league's top-scoring team, averaging 29.8 points per game.
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