Matt Ryan was leading his top-rated Atlanta team against the Seattle Seahawks, trying not to become the first quarterback since Y.A. Tittle to lose his first four playoff games. His Falcons had a full two weeks to prepare for the inexperienced Seahawks, but eventually would need just about the full 60 minutes to beat them, 30-28.
The Falcons dominated in every facet of the football game, going up by a decisive 27-7 margin through the first three quarters.
Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez (surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer), and coach Mike Smith (winningest coach in Falcons’ history) all finally got their first playoff win following a helter-skelter fourth quarter.
Ryan is known affectionately as ‘Matty Ice’, but for 14 minutes and 25 seconds Seattle rookie sensation Russell Wilson proved his mettle to the nation. After being shut down for most of the afternoon, Wilson rushed for a one-yard score early in the fourth, bringing his team to within 13 points, 27-14.
From there, Matty Ice was looking far more like Matthew Lukewarm, failing on several series to run enough time off the clock to put this game on ice (pun intended).
Wilson made the most of his and his team’s continued chances, throwing a touchdown pass to Zach Miller with nine minutes remaining and then leading a huge drive in the game’s waning minutes. With only 31 seconds remaining, Marshawn Lynch capped that one off with a touchdown to take a 28-27 lead. As if the drive and the final touchdown were not dramatic enough, Lynch actually fumbled, but upon review it was determined he had already cross the plane of the goal line and the score was upheld.
Russell finished the afternoon with a franchise-record 385 passing yards on 24-of-36 passes for two touchdowns and one interception. He also led the team in rushing with 60 yards on seven attempts and the aforementioned score.
His day was done; he had earned his team the lead and all his defense had to to was keep the Falcons from moving into field goal range in less than half a minute.
Matty Ice, however, made sure such a task was far more easily said than done.
Ryan hit several open receivers in succession to earn Matt Bryant a 49-yard attempt. He missed, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll had called a timeout only a moment prior to the snap.
On Take 2, Bryant was straight and true, giving Atlanta the win in absolutely dramatic fashion.
In 16 seasons of elite play, Tony Gonzalez had never won a playoff game. He caught six of Ryan’s passes for 51 yards and a touchdown to help send his Falcons to the NFC Championship game.
As for Ryan, he completed 24-of-35 passes for 250 yards, three touchdown passes and two interceptions. Michael Turner has been the team’s premier back for the last half-decade, and his 98 yards on a mere 14 carries went a long way in building the team’s early lead. However, he may have to learn to share the spotlight next weekend when the team plays host to San Francisco. Jacquizz Rodgers tallied 64 carries on 10 attempts, and recorded the “Hit Stick Play” of the ballgame.