ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons called on a pair of Matty Ices to turn back the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history.
After the top-seeded Falcons squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan completed two long passes and Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds to give Atlanta a stunning 30-28 victory over Russell Wilson and the gutty Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday.
The Falcons (14-3) overcame their reputation for choking in the playoffs, winning their first postseason game since 2004. They’ll host San Francisco in the NFC championship game next Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, doing all he could to make the Seahawks (12-6) the first playoff team ever to rally from such a daunting deficit in the final period. Marshawn Lynch appeared to have locked it up for Seattle when he scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left for a 28-27 lead.
But the Seahawks’ defense, which is one of the NFL’s best and had totally stymied the Falcons in the fourth, went to a softer coverage and got burned. The Falcons had just enough time to pull off a comeback of their own.
Ryan, shaking off the struggles in his first three playoff appearances, hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and coach Mike Smith quickly signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the middle to his favorite target, tight end Tony Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could’ve been his final game.
Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the field goal try.
The Seahawks called time just before the ball was snapped, and Bryant’s kick sailed right of the upright. That turned out to be nothing more than practice. The next one was right down the middle, giving the Falcons a stunning victory. Bryant took off toward the Falcons logo in the middle of the field, pumping his right fist before he was mobbed by his teammates.
“Wow,” Smith said.
Wilson finished with 385 yards passing and did all he could to lead the Seahawks back from a 27-7 deficit entering the final quarter. When Lynch powered over, the ball breaking the goal line just before it squirted from his arms, Seattle celebrated like it had won its second straight playoff game on the road, having already taken care of Robert Griffiin III and the Washington Redskins.
Not so fast.
Ryan and Bryant led the Falcons back.
“Our quarterback is a special player,” Smith said. “They call him Matty Ice, but I feel like we’ve got two Matty Ices. There’s Matty Ice Ryan and Matty Ice Bryant.”
Wilson’s last throw, a desperation heave into the end zone, was intercepted by Falcons receiver Julio Jones.
Gonzalez, who had never won a playoff game in his 16-year career, broke down in tears after Bryant’s kick went through the uprights.
“I’ve never cried after a win,” said Gonzalez, who has stated repeatedly that he’s “95 percent” sure this is his final year. “I was thinking, ‘Here we go again. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.'”
The Falcons won the first playoff game of the Ryan era, having gone one-and-done in his previous appearances to give the team — and its quarterback — a reputation for excelling in the regular season but choking in the postseason. Not anymore. Atlanta is one win away from the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Ryan threw three touchdown passes and overcame two interceptions, finishing 24 of 35 for a personal-best 250 yards in the postseason. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez, a 47-yarder to Roddy White and a 5-yarder to Snelling, the latter with 2:11 left in the third quarter to give the Falcons a seemingly commanding lead.
No team had ever rallied from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Wilson nearly pulled it off, running 1 yard for a touchdown to make it 27-14, then going to Zach Miller on a 3-yard touchdown pass that closed the gap to 27-21.
Finally, taking over at his own 39 after an Atlanta punt, Wilson completed three passes for 50 yards, the last of them a short throw to Lynch that went all the way to the Falcons 3 after the quarterback spun away from rushing Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
The Seahawks, though, will spend the offseason kicking themselves for that last Falcons’ drive, and for squandering two scoring chances in the first half.
On fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 11, Seattle passed on a field goal and a chance to give the ball to Lynch, their beast of a back. Fullback Michael Robinson took the handoff and was stuffed for a 1-yard loss by safety William Moore.
Then, with the clock winding down before halftime, Seattle used up all its timeouts and wound up regretting it when Wilson was sacked by Jonathan Babineaux at the Atlanta 20. Time ran out before the Seahawks could get off another play, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 20-0 lead.
Bryant also connected on field goals of 37 and 39 yards in the first half.
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