Playoff experience gives Falcons edge

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catches a touchdown pass past Los Angeles Rams defender John Johnson III during the fourth quarter of an NFL football wild-card playoff game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) Experience could be the Atlanta Falcons’ big edge as the only team in the NFC playoffs for the second straight year.

Coach Dan Quinn says that advantage was a factor in Saturday night’s 26-13 wild-card win over the Los Angeles Rams.

One year after advancing to the Super Bowl, the Falcons are “a battle-tested brotherhood,” according to Quinn, who added Sunday “That kind of experience I thought certainly showed up last night.”

After showing impressive poise against the Rams, Atlanta will play next Saturday’s divisional round game at Philadelphia.

“We’re not here just to get here,” quarterback Matt Ryan said after the game. “We want to make noise while we’re here, so this is what it’s all about. It’s about giving yourself the opportunity this time of the year to compete and play in games like this and win games like this.”

The Falcons are only the No. 6 seed, making the playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season with a home win over Carolina. Even so, Quinn senses his team, boosted by last year’s long postseason run, is peaking at the right time.

“It helps because the guys who were in (last year’s playoffs) have this experience and know how to separate your preparation and make sure the only battle you’re in is this one,” he said, adding that one-game focus “doesn’t allow you to look too far back … and we’re certainly not thinking about anything past this week.”

Quinn said the win over the Rams, who lacked the Falcons’ playoff experience , may have been Atlanta’s most complete game of the season.

Atlanta’s improved defense held the NFL’s highest-scoring offense to one touchdown. Matt Bryant kicked four field goals – giving him nine without a miss in his last two weeks.

The Falcons’ only touchdowns came on a 4-yard run by Devonta Freeman and a late 8-yard pass from Ryan to Julio Jones. But holding the ball for more than 37 minutes kept the Rams’ offense off the field, and that dominance made up for a lack of big plays.

“We’re equipped to play however we need to win that game and I do love that about this group,” Quinn said. “For this game, what was required was to have more run attempts. I thought it would be a difference in the second half and certainly it was.”

Quinn compared his current “battle tested” team to a time early in last year’s playoffs when he stopped practice because he thought “the guys were tight.”

“We kind of loosened up after that,” he said, adding he believes this year’s team “started our push” following a loss to New Orleans on Dec. 7.

“There’s been a shift that’s taken place with our team, their readiness, their mindset, their belief, their support of one another is really at a strong point for this 2017 team and we’ll need that kind of mindset again this week.”

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

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