When the Packers opened with a missed field-goal attempt and a fumble, Sunday’s NFC Championship Game essentially was over after 19 minutes.

By the time Aaron Rodgers got his third swing in, the host Falcons led 17-0 en route to 31 unanswered points and a 44-21 blowout.

“We ran into a buzz saw,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We couldn’t overcome the pace that these guys were playing.”

So now Super Bowl LI will feature “The Buzz Saw” vs. “The Brain” — Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who disposed of Pittsburgh 36-17 in the AFC title game, will be making their seventh Super Bowl appearance together. But not since the first one 15 years ago will Belichick be taking on the league’s No. 1 scoring attack.

Back then, the 2001 St. Louis Rams scored 503 regular-season points (31.4 per game) as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” This year, the Falcons scored 540 points (33.8).

Back then, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner won league MVP. This year, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is expected to win the award.

Back then, the Rams scored 20 or more points in 16 of 18 games heading into the Super Bowl. They outscored two playoff opponents 74-41, including the Packers 45-17. This year, the Falcons have scored 23 or more points in 17 of 18 games. They have outscored two playoff opponents 80-41.

Back then, “The Brain” was a 14-point underdog. Today, he’s a three-point favorite. Back then, “The Brain” pulled off a 20-17 upset by disrupting the Rams’ rhythmic passing attack with a game plan that took away running back Marshall Faulk.

This year? Well, even Belichick, with the league’s No. 1 scoring defense (15.6) at his disposal, will need every cranny of his cranium for the Patriots to snuff out Atlanta’s buzz saw.

All of Atlanta’s regular-season strengths were flexing full-go Sunday.

Ryan’s league-record 9.26 yards per passing attempt? Topped at 10.3 Sunday.

Its league-leading 6.7 yards per play? Bettered at 7.3.

Its league-low 0.7 turnovers per game? Improved upon with no giveaways and two takeaways.

Its league-leading scoring rate of 52.6 percent of all drives? Topped at 77.8 percent (7-for-9).

And it’s not just Atlanta’s ability to move the ball that’s impressive. It’s how many weapons Ryan and Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan use while doing so.

A record 13 players caught touchdown passes for the Falcons this year. Sunday, three players shared Ryan’s four touchdown passes while eight players caught at least one pass.

No team in the league is as powerful or unpredictable on first down as the Falcons.

On Sunday, Atlanta ran 33 first-down plays and averaged 7.2 yards, which was impressive but still below its league-leading season average of 8.1.

The Falcons ran the ball 20 times on first down for 84 yards (4.2) and a touchdown while losing yardage only one time. Meanwhile, Ryan threw it 13 times on first down, completing nine passes to six different targets for 155 yards, an incredible 11.9 yards per attempt, and seven first downs.

Shanahan and Ryan showed disciplined balance in where the ball was thrown on first down. Ryan was 2-for-3 for 35 yards throwing deep right; 2-for-2 for 48 yards throwing short right; 2-for-3 for 24 yards throwing short middle, 2-for-2 for 40 yards throwing deep middle; and 1-for-3 for 8 yards throwing short left.

The rhythm and diversity established on first down carried over to third down. The Falcons’ average third-down distance was 6.5 yards. They gained an average of 7.9 yards while converting 10 of 13.

On third downs, Ryan completed 10 of 11 passes to six different targets for 101 yards, nine first downs and three touchdowns to three different targets.

Throwing left, Ryan was 3-for-4 for 27 yards and a touchdown. Throwing right, he was 3-for-3 for 24 yards and two touchdowns. Throwing to the middle, he was 3-for-3 for 37 yards.

“There’s a reason they’re going to the Super Bowl,” Rodgers said. “They’re going to be tough to stop.”

All that’s left standing between “The Buzz Saw” and Atlanta’s first Super Bowl title is “The Brain” and his quest for a fifth Lombardi Trophy.

 

E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com