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Falcons beat Packers 44-21 to reach Super Bowl

(Reuters) - Matt Ryan piloted high-flying Atlanta to a 44-21 rout of the Green Bay Packers in the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship game on Sunday as the Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl for just the second time.

Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) hugs Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) after the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta won 44-21. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Ryan underlined his credentials as the favorite for National Football League (NFL) most valuable player honor, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another to reach the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Houston, where Atlanta will take on either the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Falcons celebrated the last game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with an awesome display of offensive fireworks, piling up 493 total yards to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999 and a chance to claim the franchise’s first NFL championship.

“We just kept battling the entire four quarters,” said Ryan. “You never know how these (games) are going to shake out, you expect to come down to the last play or two ... I’m just really excited about two weeks from now.”

An expected shootout between two of the league’s supercharged attacks was instead a lopsided affair as the Falcons stormed to an early lead and never looked back as Ryan completed 27-of-38 passes for 392 yards.

Ryan’s favorite target Julio Jones hauled in nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers never got his team’s offense in gear. The Packers were shutout in the opening half and trailed 31-0 before finally getting on the scoreboard.

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“We ran into a buzz saw,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “Frankly we ran out of gas.

“We needed to keep pace with those guys, we felt confident coming in here we would be able to score points, we got behind and got into a game you just don’t want to play.”

Owners of the league’s top-scoring offense during the regular season, the Falcons came out firing on all cylinders and scored on their first three possessions.

Ryan threw a touchdown to Mohamed Sanu, ran for another and also connected with Jones to cap a dominating half.

Matt Bryant chimed in with a 28-yard field goal and the Falcons led 24-0 at half time.

For the Packers, who arrived in Atlanta riding an eight game winning streak, the opening half was one of missed opportunities and miscues, including a missed 41-yard field goal attempt by Mason Crosby that set the tone for a miserable afternoon.

The Falcons, having squandered a 17-point lead to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFC title game, did not let up, Ryan finding Jones with a 73-yard touchdown strike on their first possession of the second half to go up 31-0.

The next time they had the ball the Packers finally got on the scoreboard, Rodgers finding Davante Adams in the end zone.

Rogers added touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson and Jared Cook, before the Packers waved the white flag late in the fourth quarter, sitting their star quarterback on the bench.

“We hurt ourselves with the missed field goal and another good drive down there and fumbled inside 10,” said Rodgers. “We had zero points in the first half and you’re not going to win many games like that.

“In a game like this it comes down to the little details.”

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Both