It’s not an Atlanta Falcons game if it doesn’t give you a heart attack and shave several years off your life.
Thanks to a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal with eight seconds remaining, the Falcons (14-3) defeated the Seattle Seahawks 30-28 in thrilling fashion to win their first playoff game in eight years.
And it was only fitting for Tony Gonzalez to make a 19-yard reception to set up the game-winning field goal. The tight end who is a sure-fire lock for the Hall of Fame but has yet to win a playoff game in his 16-year career finally tasted a playoff victory. As expected, Gonzalez was overcome with emotion.
For Matt Ryan, this game was a legacy builder. He made the complete transformation to “Matty Ice” after he set up Bryant for the game-winner with two huge completions to earn his first playoff victory.
Head coach Mike Smith also took a step toward being one of the best coaches in the league. The current regime has had no problem winning in the regular season (56-24 in five seasons), but the playoffs is where they had trouble. The question of whether Smith can coach the Falcons to a postseason victory has been officially erased.
If Atlanta would have lost, it would have been the worst loss in Falcons history. The Falcons were up 27-7 heading into the fourth quarter only to squander the 20-point lead after the Seahawks scored 21 unanswered points.
Briefly, Seattle (12-6) had taken the lead after being down the entire game. However, they left 31 seconds on the clock and the Falcons had two timeouts to boot. The rest is history.
Atlanta had the 21st-ranked run defense in the regular season facing Seattle’s third-ranked run offense Marshawn Lynch. Logic would tell you Lynch was in for a big day after putting up 132 yards on the Washington Redskins in last week’s wild card round and totaling 1,590 on the season.
The Falcons stepped up to the challenge and held Lynch to just 46 yards on 16 carries – a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. He also had a touchdown along with a lost fumble.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was the Seahawks’ leading rusher. He was able to put up 60 yards, but he did most of his damage through the air by going 24 of 36 for 385 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception thrown on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game.
The Falcons had all the momentum in the world for the first half. The first possession of the game ended with a 39-yard field goal from Bryant. Atlanta forced Seattle to go three-and-out, but Ryan threw a pick to middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to give the Seahawks the ball back.
But Seattle wouldn’t do much with the ball. Sean Weatherspoon stripped the ball from Lynch, and the Falcons ended the eight-play, 61-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez to take a 10-0 lead.
Atlanta forced another fruitless Seattle drive and put together an 11-play, 68-yard drive that was capped off with a 37-yard field goal.
Wilson drove the Seahawks deep into Falcons territory, but William Moore stopped fullback Michael Robinson on fourth down. Atlanta took over on downs from their own 12-yard line. Four plays later, Ryan found Roddy White deep for a 47-yard touchdown over cornerback Richard Sherman. After Seattle blew another chance at getting points, Atlanta went into halftime with a 20-0 lead.
The Seahawks took the opening possession of the second half 80 yards down the field. Wilson found Golden Tate from 29 yards out for the score.
Ryan orchestrated an 80-yard drive of his own, completing a shovel pass to Jason Snelling for a four-yard touchdown.
It was 27-7 heading into the last quarter of the game, and from there, it was all Seahawks. Until, of course, the game-winning drive.
Ryan finished with 250 yards on 24 of 35 passing for three touchdowns and two interceptions.
White was the leading receiver with 76 yards and a touchdown on five receptions. He also had a few words for Sherman after making the 47-yard touchdown reception.
Julio Jones caught six passes for 59 yards and an interception. Yes, you read that correctly – Jones intercepted Wilson’s Hail Mary attempt in the end zone.
In his first playoff win, Gonzalez caught six balls for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Atlanta had seemingly no answer for tight end Zach Miller, who piled up 143 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions.
The Falcons had a huge boost in the running game from both Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner. Rodgers rushed the ball 10 times for 64 yards; Turner had 98 yards on 14 attempts.
The game was probably closer than it should have been, but these Falcons still pulled through.
Next up: The Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.