The top-seeded Falcons advanced to next Sunday’s NFC title game, in which they’ll host the San Francisco 49ers with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake. They gave quarterback Matt Ryan and Coach Mike Smith their first postseason triumph in their five seasons with the team.
And if they and the Seahawks didn’t quite match the memorable football drama produced in the Baltimore Ravens’ double-overtime win Saturday in Denver in an AFC encounter, the two teams at least provided a worthy encore.
“The one thing that I’ve learned in my five years, and specifically in the postseason, is that it’s hard,” Ryan said. “I mean, it is difficult to do. . . . Nobody flinched. We just kept battling, kept doing what we do.”
Ryan threw three touchdown passes. The Falcons crafted leads of 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 entering the fourth quarter. But Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson ran for a one-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter and, after Ryan threw his second interception of the day, threw a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller.
With the Falcons’ offense suddenly going nowhere, the Seahawks moved in front, 28-27, with 31 seconds remaining on tailback Marshawn Lynch’s two-yard touchdown run. Lynch was ruled after a replay review to have crossed the goal line before he lost the ball, which ended up in the hands of Seattle center Max Unger in the end zone. Another postseason disappointment for the Falcons seemed at hand.
But Smith said: “When they scored that touchdown to go ahead, our group on the sideline never blinked. They said we’ve got 31 seconds and two timeouts.”
Ryan used completions to wide receiver Harry Douglas and Gonzalez to get the Falcons in position, and Smith sent Bryant on the field with 13 seconds to go. Bryant’s kick, which came on his second try after Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll called a timeout just before the ball was snapped on Bryant’s first attempt, was true. Yet there still were some plot twists left, as an inexplicable onside kick by the Falcons put the Seahawks near midfield.
A short completion got Seattle to the Atlanta 48-yard line. But the Seahawks opted against a 66-yard field goal try by just-signed veteran kicker Ryan Longwell and Wilson’s desperation heave was intercepted in the end zone by the Falcons’ Julio Jones, a wide receiver pressed into duty as a final-play defensive back.
The fifth-seeded Seahawks, who’d won their previous six games and had ousted the Washington Redskins from the playoffs a week earlier, were left lamenting their missed opportunities on offense, especially during a first half in which they twice drove deep into Falcons territory but had no points to show for it. Carroll left his offense on the field for one failed fourth-down gamble at the Atlanta 11-yard line, and Wilson took a sack on a later play from the Falcons 11 that left the Seahawks unable to get off another snap before time expired in the half.