Falcons Flying High! Matt Ryan Wins 1st Playoff Game
The Atlanta Falcons entered the NFC playoffs as the #1 seed for the 2nd time in 3 years, hoping to shake a gorilla off of their back. Under head coach Mike Smith and young franchise quarterback Matt Ryan the Falcons were 0-3 in the playoffs being outscored 47-102. They would face the red hot Seattle Seahawks who under rookie QB Russell Wilson and one of the best defenses in the league had won their last 6 games including a Wild Card victory against the Redskins last week. Seattle was becoming the nation’s sexy pick to upset a lowly Falcons team who hasn’t produced when it matters most.
Many would be surprised when the Falcons would jump all over the Seahawks in the first half scoring 20 points while their defense was shutting down Seattle’s offense. Matt Ryan connected with the ageless wonder, TE Tony Gonzalez, on an incredible touchdown pass in the back of the end-zone to give Atlanta a 10-0 lead. He would hit Roddy White on a 47 yard bomb with just over 4 minutes left in the half to jump out to that huge halftime lead. It looked like the #1 seed was playing like a #1 seed should be but for the Falcons players and staff this was uncharted territory.
Seattle got on the board when Russell Wilson hit Golden Tate from 29 yards out and Atlanta fans began to hold their breath. Some of that anxiety was alleviated when Ryan found Jason Snelling for a short touchdown pass and Atlanta was entering the 4th quarter with a 20 point lead, they couldn’t mess that up. Well they almost did, as Russell Wilson rushed in for a touchdown and found TE Zach Miller for a touchdown within 4 minutes and the Falcons lead was cut to just 6 points. Atlanta couldn’t really be blamed for their lack of production in the 3rd quarter as they scored on their only possession but the 4th quarter is a different story.
After Wilson’s touchdown run the Falcons came out and on the first pass Matt Ryan threw a bomb down the left sideline intended for WR Roddy White but it was badly overthrown and Seattle’s safety Earl Thomas made a great play to intercept the ball; the Miller touchdown followed. When the Falcons got the ball back they would throw the ball 3 straight times and punt. The Seahawks couldn’t take advantage, that time, but the Falcons would come back rush for a first down with RB Michael Turner and then Ryan would throw an incomplete pass on 3rd down and they were forced to punt once again. Seattle would return the punt to their own 24 with 3 minutes left, down 6 points and a chance to steal this game.
Marshawn Lynch had a relatively bad game for being one of the top rushers in the NFL this season but on that final drive it was all him and Wilson. The two were responsible for 41 of the 60 yards they went down the field before Lynch punched it in from 2 yards out. The other 19 yards came on a pass from Wilson to WR Golden Tate who had the team’s first touchdown in the 3rd quarter. It seemed as if the Seahawks had pulled off the greatest 4th quarter comeback in NFL history and inevitably knocked the Falcons out of the playoffs once again.
Atlanta had the ball 3 different times before their final drive with 0:31 on the clock and their only 2 first downs came from Michael Turner. Turner rushed the ball 3 times for 24 yards in the 4 quarter while WR Julio Jones had a rush for -1 yard and Jacquizz Rodgers had 2 rushes for 2 yards. Matt Ryan had 5 pass attempts with 2 completions for just 3 yards and threw a bad interception. Turner had averaged over 7 yards a carry on the day rushing for more yards than he had in the past 8 games, 98. Atlanta should have been running the ball and killing the clock, limiting the Seahawks time of possession and not putting their team in the situation they were in.
Atlanta had the ball with just over half a minute left, two timeouts and down by a single point on their own 34 yard-line. Denver was in a similar situation, albeit the game was tied, but they decided against charging downfield in an attempt for a late game-winning field goal opportunity. Atlanta’s livelihood was on the line so I know the comparison is a bit of a stretch but still, Matt Ryan led his team downfield and Peyton Manning didn’t. As bad as Ryan was in the previous 3 drives of the 4th quarter he will be remembered for the last one. He found Harry Douglas for 22 yards and taking their team’s 2nd timeout before finding Tony Gonzalez for 19 yards to put them at the 31 with 0:13 left. Matt Bryant would come on and kick a 49 yard field goal to put the Falcons up 2 with 0:08 left.
This was easily the most important drive of Ryan’s young postseason career but this game was also his best. In his previous 3 postseason matchups Ryan never threw for more than 200 yards and had thrown 3 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. On Sunday Matty Ice was 24-35 with 250 yards with 3 touchdowns and although he did throw 2 interceptions he made the two biggest plays when it mattered the most. Even though he had led his team to a late field goal the Falcons still had to kick the ball off to the Seahawks who were looking for more last-second heroics.
Russell Wilson came on the field and made a short completion to Doug Baldwin to set up a hail mary pass into the end-zone. Wilson tossed the ball deep to the right side where Falcon’s WR Julio Jones intercepted the pass. I can make the joke about how Golden Tate claimed he caught the ball, or why Russell Wilson had thought he won the game but that brings up too many bad memories for me as a Packers fan. The Seahawks were sent home and the Falcons will welcome the San Francisco 49ers to Atlanta next Sunday for the NFC Championship game.