Running back Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons looks for space in front of cornerback Troy Hill of the Los Angeles Rams in their NFC Wild Card Playoff
Los Angeles (AFP) - The Atlanta Falcons kept their bid for Super Bowl redemption on track Saturday with a 26-13 victory over the upstart Los Angeles Rams in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
Matt Bryant booted four field goals and the Falcons defense kept the explosive Rams offense in check as the Falcons booked a second-round clash with the National Football Conference top seeds Philadelphia in the second round.
In American Football Conference action, the Tennessee Titans rallied from an 18 point deficit to beat the Chiefs 22-21 in Kansas City.
The Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game since January of 1994 – and have now gone 0-6 since then at Arrowhead Stadium in the post-season.
With the Rams in their second season back in Los Angeles, the Southern California city was hosting a playoff game for the first time since the Raiders made it to the post-season in 1994.
The Falcons, devastated by the New England Patriots comeback victory in last season’s Super Bowl, squeaked into the playoffs after an erratic season.
But their experience paid off against a young Rams team that had earned the third seed in the NFC.
Devonta Freeman rushed for a touchdown for the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan added a scoring pass to Julio Jones – an eight-yarder that gave Atlanta a 26-13 lead with 5:48 remaining.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans scores a touchdown on a pass from himself during the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs
The vaunted Rams offense, meanwhile, produced just one touchdown.
Quarterback Jared Goff completed 24 of 45 passes for 259 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to rookie Cooper Kupp that pulled the Rams within 13-7 with 2:34 left in the first half.
A Sam Ficken field goal pulled the Rams within 13-10 at halftime, and Ficken booted a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to narrow the gap to 19-13 before the Falcons closed out their methodical victory.
- ‘Hard to explain’ -
There was drama in Kansas City, where Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota’s exploits included catching a touchdown pass from himself.
The remarkable play came as the Titans opened the third quarter trailing 21-3. Mariota marched them 91 yards and had rolled left and thrown toward Corey Davis in the end zone.
Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis deflected the pass back toward him and Mariota reeled in the ball and plunged into the end zone credited with a six-yard TD pass to himself.
Tyreek Hill (C) of the Kansas City Chiefs is tackled by Brian Orakpo and Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans during the AFC Wild Card Playoff Game
“It’s hard to explain,” Mariota said. “I really got lucky there and was trying to make a play, trying to give Corey a chance there. I think it was Revis who batted it up there and made a good play, and I kind of was at the right place at the right time.”
The Titans scored again early in the fourth when running back Derrick Henry raced 35 yards for a touchdown.
The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving Tennessee down 21-16.
They edged ahead on Mariota’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker with 6:06 left to play.
The two-point conversion attempt failed – and nearly brought disaster for the Titans when Mariota was sacked, but officials ruled he was down before the ball came loose.
Similar drama unfolded on the Titans’ final drive, when Henry was hit by Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters and the ball came loose.
Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson raced to the end zone with the apparent fumble for a touchdown, but it was overturned as officials deemed Henry was down and the play complete before Johnson scooped up the ball.
The Chiefs had built a quick 14-0 lead with a one-yard touchdown run by Kareem Hunt and a 13-yard TD pass from Alex Smith to tight end Travis Kelce.
The Titans got on the board with a 49-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, but Kansas City made it 21-3 in the final seconds of the first half on a 14-yard scoring pass from Smith to Demarcus Robinson.
The Chiefs’ suffered a blow when Kelce suffered a concussion late in the first half on a helmet-to-helmet hit from Titans safety Johnathan Cyprien.
Kelce didn’t return to the game and the Chiefs struggled offensively in the second half.
The Titans advance to a divisional game against either the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers.