Super Bowl LI: Two shootouts become key turning points in Atlanta's season
The Atlanta Falcons' defense allows its offense to control games now | Source: Jason Getz - USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl after an 11-5 season which saw their team become a force in the National Football League. In a season that has seen the rise of the 'Dirty Birds', VAVEL NFL examines the key turning points for them.

Of the five losses they suffered, the Falcons lost narrowly in each game which showed that they could keep up with the best that both the AFC and the NFC had to offer, as well as deal with the teams in their own division, the NFC South. There are two games, however, that were key to bringing Atlanta to where they are today, heading to Super Bowl LI.

Matt Ryan evades pressure against the Packers | Source: Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports
Matt Ryan evades pressure against the Green Bay Packers | Source: Jason Getz - USA TODAY Sports

The effect of the first Falcons - Packers game

In Week 8 of the regular season, the team that the Falcons would face in the NFC Championship, the Green Bay Packers, came to Atlanta to face a Falcons offense that was firing on all cylinders. Many expected the game to be a battle between quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers and it proved to be exactly that with the game ending in a Falcons 33-32 win.

What made this game so important in the Falcons season was the recovery by the Falcons defense after they had let the Packers put up 17 points in the second quarter. The Falcons offense stayed on pace with Rodgers as they went into the half with a 19-17 lead but what turned the game for the Falcons was the performance of the defense in the second half. The Falcons defense shut out the Packers for the entire third quarter and only allowed one touchdown in the fourth quarter, getting to Rodgers three times and forcing one fumble in that quarter. This not only gave the Falcons offense a chance to put up enough points to eek out the win, but it also gave the defense the springboard they needed to see out the rest of the season and the playoffs the way head coach Dan Quinn would have wanted.

Safety Keanu Neal is party of an imrpoving Falcons secondary | Source: Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports
Safety Keanu Neal is party of an improving Falcons secondary | Source: Jason Getz - USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons win the NFC South, send the Saints out of the playoffs

The next key turning point for the Falcons was their game against the New Orleans Saints, their division rival, in Week 17. Against another elite quarterback in Drew Brees, the Falcons faithful were treated to a game that saw both offenses slash through the defenses to result in a 38-32 win for the Falcons. This was a big win for the team as not only did they beat a heated rival and secure their home field advantage in the playoffs, but their defense once again managed to limit a very good offense enough to allow their own offense to win the game.

For the first three quarters, the Falcons only allowed 13 points, managing to pick up two sacks, an interception, and a fumble along the way. In that time period, the Falcons offense scored 38 points which were enough to see them through in the end. Again, the Falcons defense gave themselves a platform on which they pushed off from to make their way to the Super Bowl, even though they gave up 19 points in the fourth quarter. This game, along with the one above, highlighted Atlanta's weaknesses and allowed them to address them so that they could prepare fully for their playoff games and reach the Super Bowl for the second time ever. They will need another big performance from their defense against the New England Patriots if they want to win the Super Bowl, and they have the experience to draw from to do so.