Falcons Survive Explosive Seahawks For First Win In Matt Ryan/Mike Smith Era
by Patrick Imig (@patrickimig)
Cold Hard Football Facts' Divisional Round Destroyer
Alternate headline with :31 seconds remaining: "Seahawks Shoot Down Falcons With Explosive 20-Point Comeback"
It wasn't easy but the Atlanta Falcons captured their first playoff victory since 2004 when Jim Mora, Jr and Michael Vick slaughtered the Rams 45-17. With its win over Seattle in this year's Divisional Round, Atlanta is 7-11 all time in the postseason.
With it comes relief and minor validation for Matt Ryan, Mike Smith and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The Seahawks, by the way, are 9-12 all time in the postseason, meaning they're the franchise version of Peyton Manning in the playoffs (Manning is 9-11). Keep this in mind when debating winners and losers at your next sports argument.
Here's what we learned and witnessed in Sunday's epic 30-28 Divisional Round clash.
The Game Was A Classic Heavyweight Fight
The Falcons scored the first serious blows, jumping out to a 20-0 lead while Seattle failed to connect on their punches. The Seahawks opened the second half down 20-0, but responded with a nine-play drive that culminated with a Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Golden Tate.
But the Falcons fought back, producing a 14-play, 80-yard drive that chewed seven and a half minutes off the clock. It ended with a Matt Ryan touchdown pass to Jason Snelling and a 27-7 lead.
On the ensuing Seattle possession, the Seahawks swung right back, landing eight plays for 80 yards and a Russell Wilson touchdown run. With 13 minutes in regulation, the Seahawks trailed by 13.
The 'Hawks defense stiffened on the Falcons next possession, forcing a Matt Ryan interception. With the ball right back in the hands of the rookie quarterback, Wilson guided the Seahawks down the field on four plays for 62 yards and a Zach Miller touchdown in less than two minutes.
With the Falcons lead trimmed to a narrow 27-21 margin, the two teams traded punts. The Falcons would punt again and Seattle grabbed the lead after marching down field on seven plays in a little over two minutes, culminating with a Marshawn Lynch touchdown. Seattle took the lead 28-27.
With :31 seconds in regulation, Matt Ryan woke up from his playoff daze and connected with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. to set up a 49-yard field goal for Matt Bryant. Bryant nailed it but the Falcons left :06 seconds on the clock.
With one last heave to the end zone, Russell Wilson was picked off by Julio Jones. No Golden Tate controversy. Falcons win. Barely. (I'm worn out just typing all that.)
The Falcons Won In Spite Of Their Failed Efforts
Atlanta had the look of a team scared by the ghost of postseasons past in the second half. And the team played like it didn't know how to win.
Matt Ryan was shaky and made some poor decisions (see interception by Thomas, Earl). The team inexplicably called a timeout with :13 seconds remaining in regulation to set up Matt Bryant's field goal instead of letting the clock wind down to four seconds or less.
Then the Falcons inexplicably kicked to the Seahawks what was no longer than an onside kick, setting Seattle at midfield with :06 seconds left. After a short completion, the 'Hawks heaved a Hail Mary that ended their chances ... chances Atlanta can't afford to give to San Francisco next week.
The Seahawks Beat Themselves
Seattle failed to convert on 4th and one in the first half, passing up an opportunity for a Ryan Longwell field goal. The 'Hawks missed out on a field goal try at end of the first half after Wilson was sacked on third down. That's six points Seattle left on the table in the first half alone.
Also consider Marshawn Lynch fumbled in the first quarter at the Atlanta 39-yard line following Bobby Wagner's interception of Matt Ryan. Seattle out-gained Atlanta 491-417 but left points off the board and it cost the team in the end.
Zach Miller Did His Best Tony Gonzalez Impersonation
While Ray Lewis is extending his last dance with the Ravens, Gonzalez fittingly caught the final pass from Matt Ryan to set up the game-winning field goal. But his counterpart in Seattle was explosive in the Divisional Round. Miller caught eight passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.
Gonzalez had a quality performance as well: six catches, 51 yards, one touchdown.
The Sky Is The Limit For Russell Wilson
Wilson thoroughly outplayed Matt Ryan. He completed 24/36 for 385 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (the Hail Mary heave at the end of regulation) for a robust passer rating of 109.1.
Wilson also averaged 10.2 Yards Per Attempt and rushed seven times for 60 yards and a touchdown. Ryan threw two legitimate interceptions and only averaged 7.1 YPA.
Including the postseason, Wilson has been on an incredible 10-game run. He's thrown 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions, rushed for five touchdowns and 488 yards and led the team to an 8-2 record.
The collective sigh of relief you heard Sunday afternoon wasn't just the Falcons and their fans exhausting some form of vindication; it was the 49ers and Ravens, glad to see the NFL's second youngest team and arguably its most dangerous leave the tournament for the Lombardi Trophy.
Atlanta Has Its Hands Full With Kaepernick And The 49ers
Good luck to the Falcons. They're going to need it.