Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Falcons beat Seahawks 30-28 to make NFC title game

ATLANTA — Matt Bryant pumped his fist and celebrated atop the Falcons logo in the middle of the field. Tony Gonzalez broke down in tears. Matt Ryan relished the thought of not having to answer a familiar question.

The Falcons finally showed they could win a playoff game.

After a meltdown in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had a comeback that will long be remembered in championship-starved Atlanta. Ryan completed two long passes and Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds left, lifting the NFC's top seed to a stunning 30-28 victory over Russell Wilson and the gutty Seahawks in a division game Sunday.

"Wow!" said Falcons coach Mike Smith, summing up this classic as well as anyone could.

Atlanta (14-3) squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, falling behind for the first time when Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left and Ryan Longwell knocked through the extra point for a 28-27 Seattle lead.

No team has lost a playoff game when holding such a big lead in the final quarter.

The Falcons, thanks to a pair of "Matty Ices" — Ryan and Bryant — avoided being the first.

Ryan, shaking off his struggles in three previous playoff losses and two interceptions against Seattle, hit Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and Smith quickly called timeout. Then Ryan threw down the middle to Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could have been his final game.

Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout. Instead of risking another play with 13 seconds left, he sent in Bryant.

"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."

The Falcons overcame their reputation for choking in the playoffs, winning their first postseason game since the 2004 season. They host San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

"Nobody flinched," Ryan said. "We just kept battling, kept doing what we do. That's been the makeup of our team all season."

Bryant knocked through his third winning kick of the season. But he'd never made one like this, with so much on the line. "When they scored their touchdown, I walked down (the sideline)," he said. "I told the offensive line, I told (Ryan), I told all the receivers, 'We've done this before.' "

Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score for the Seahawks (12-6). But their defense, which allowed a league-low 245 points in the regular season, went to a softer coverage and got burned. "We had high, high hopes for the rest of the season," Wilson said. "When the game was over, I was very disappointed. But walking back into the tunnel, I got so excited about next year. The resilience we showed was unbelievable."

Wilson had 385 yards passing as Seattle wiped out a 27-7 deficit in the final 15 minutes. If the 28-27 lead had held, it would have executed the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history, STATS LLC said.

Instead, the game was the second playoff game with two lead changes in the final 31 seconds of regulation, the Elias Sports Bureau said. (The other was Tennessee's "Music City Miracle" victory over Buffalo on Jan. 8, 2000).

And Ryan, will no longer be asked why he can't win in the playoffs; he and Smith were 0-3.

"That's going to be nice," Ryan said. "But our goal is not to win one playoff game. Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has."

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