Bryant’s leg lifts Falcons over Seahawks

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Bryant kicks the game winner

The Atlanta Falcons won their first playoff game under head coach Mike Smith in five years with a 30-28 win over the visiting Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons got off to a strong start, shutting out Seattle in the first half with a 20-0 lead. But the Seahawks battled back and took a 1-point lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter. With under 30 seconds left, the Falcons then drove down the field and thanks to a big grab by Tony Gonzalez, set up kicker Matt Bryant for a 49-yard game-winning field goal. The Falcons will host the San Francisco 49ers next week in the NFC Championship, their third trip to that game in franchise history and the first time it will be played in the Georgia Dome.

Matt Ryan led the Falcons with a 250-yard and 3-touchdown passing effort. He completed 24 of 35 passes, and also tossed a pair of interceptions. Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries, and got help from Jacquizz Rodgers who had 10 carries for 64 yards. Julio Jones and Gonzalez tied for the team lead with 6 receptions for 59 and 51 yards, respectively. Gonzalez also had a touchdown reception. Roddy White (5 catches, 76 yards) and Jason Snelling (1 catch, 5 yards) each also had touchdown catches. Matt Bryant hit 3 field goals from 39, 37, and 49 yards out. Matt Bosher punted twice for an average of 42 yards. Rodgers had four kickoff returns for an average of 26.3 yards. The Falcons offense looked strong in the first half, amassing 268 yards of total offense including 133 on the ground and converting 4 of 7 third downs. But they struggled in the second half with only 149 total yards, and generated only 10 points.

Defensively, the Falcons also looked very good in the first half. They held the Seahawks to 193 total yards, bottling up their run game as they only allowed 58 yards on the ground. The Seahawks struggled to convert on third downs, going 1 of 5 in the first half. The defense gave up 491 total yards on the day, much of that coming due to second half passing (233 yards) as the Seahawks tried to come back down by three scores. Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent tied for the team lead with 8 tackles. Weatherspoon also broke up a pass and forced a fumble. Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery); Thomas DeCoud (3 tackles, 1 pass breakup); Peria Jerry (4 tackles); William Moore (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Stephen Nicholas (5 tackles); Dunta Robinson (4 tackles); Asante Samuel (5 ackles, 2 pass breakups); and Vance Walker (4 tackles, 1 sack) all had noteworthy games.

The Falcons began the game by challenging cornerback Richard Sherman on a deep toss from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones, although Sherman managed to break it up. Michael Turner burst off the left side for a 15-yard gain on the next play. Three players later, Jacquizz Rodgers ran 7 yards to get the ball into Seahawk territory. Roddy White converted for 13 yards on third down a few plays later. Ryan tried to go back to White again three plays later, but again Sherman was in coverage and the Falcons had to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Bryant to take a 3-0 lead. The Falcons defense stood firm, bottling up Marshawn Lynch for a pair of 2-yard gains on the first two plays of the Seahawk drive. They got off the field on third down after an incomplete pass from Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice, forcing the Seahawks to punt. Punter Jon Ryan had a short kick, giving the Falcons prime field position at the 50-yard line. But on the third play of the ensuing Falcon series, Ryan looked for Gonzalez over the middle but the pair miscommunicated and the throw went right into the hands of linebacker Bobby Wagner for the interception. But the Falcons defense responded with a turnover of their own on the third play of the Seahawks possession. Marshawn Lynch run up the middle for an 11-yard gain, but Weatherspoon caught him from behind and got the strip, which Jonathan Babineaux fell on top for the recovery. And the Falcons started their next drive at their own 39-yard line. On the first play, Ryan hit Jones for 13 yards to get back into Seahawk territory. Then a horse-collar penalty on Wagner after a 4-yard run by Turner gave the Falcons a first down at the Seahawk 29-yard line. After a false start by Peter Konz a few plays later set up a 3rd & 14, Ryan hit White for a 16-yard gain to convert and put the Falcons in the redzone for the first time on the day. Chase Coffman made a nice adjustment along the sideline on a back-shoulder throw from Ryan on the next play for a 16-yard gain. Then Ryan found Gonzalez in the back of the endzone on the very next play for a 1-yard score. The Falcons now held a 10-0 lead with 3:12 left to go in the game. On the opening play of the next Seahawks possession, Wilson found Zach Miller for a 23-yard gain. But the Falcons defense once again responded and stepped up, getting a stop on 3rd & 8 pass to Golden Tate, forcing another Seahawks punt. On the final play of the first quarter, Rodgers burst up the middle, broke a couple of tackles including running over safety Earl Thomas for a 45-yard gain. That put the ball at the Seahawks’ 42-yard line to start the second quarter. Ryan took another deep shot against Sherman, this time overthrowing Jones. But the pair would connect two plays later on a 9-yard grab to convert a 3rd & 7. Several plays later, the Falcons found themselves again in the redzone facing a third down situation. But again, a false start backed the team up for a 3rd & 7 from the Seahawk 16. This time, the Seahawks were all over Ryan’s pass to White, which was bottled up for a 3-yard loss. Bryant came out and hit his second field goal of the day from 37 yards to give Atlanta a 13-0 lead. The Falcons defense continued to show its struggles covering Zach Miller, who made a 34-yard gain on the first play on the next Seahawk drive. A 16-yard pass to Golden Tate put the Seahawks in the redzone for the first time. But the Falcons run defense came up big after that forcing a 3rd & 1 from their own 11. Stephen Nicholas wrapped up Robert Turbin for no gain, and the Seahawks opted to go for it on 4th down. They handed the ball off to their fullback Michael Robinson, but William Moore shot through a gap and tackled him in the backfield to force a turnover on downs. The Falcons responded with a 33-yard run by Michael Turner on the second play of their next series that put the ball near midfield. After a defensive holding penalty on safety Kam Chancellor, the Falcons once again took their shot at Sherman. This time, Sherman stumbled as White ran by him to catch a 47-yard lob from Matt Ryan for the touchdown. With little more than 4 minutes left in the half, Seattle took over down 20-0. The Falcons continued to bottle up the Seahawk ground game, but again Wilson found Miller for a 20-yard gain to put the ball in Falcon territory. A few plays later, Miller made a 9-yard grab that put the ball at the Falcon 10-yard line with 30 seconds left in the half. On 3rd & 1, Wilson would hit Tate for a 4-yard gain to convert, with the Seahawks then burning their final timeout of the half. Asante Samuel broke up a pass to Sidney Rice on the next play, which was then followed by a false start penalty on left tackle Russell Okung. With 17 seconds left on 3rd & goal from the Falcons 11-yard line, Wilson was sacked by Babineaux. As the Seahawks raced to get to the line to try and spike the ball, time expired and the Falcons still held their 20-0 lead.

To start the second half, the Seahawks finally got their offense going. Wilson scrambled for 17 yards on the third play to put the ball at midfield. Four plays later, Wilson would dropped by Vance Walker for a sack. But on the next play, Wilson hit his favorite target Miller for 19 yards to convert on a 2nd & 18. On the next play, Golden Tate scored on a 29-yard pass from Wilson, running over Dunta Robinson to get into the endzone. The Seahawks now had cut the Falcons lead to 20-7 after a 9-play, 80-yard drive. The Falcons would mount their own methodical scoring drive, going 80 yards on 14 plays, and consuming 7:36 of the clock. Ryan would complete 7 of 9 passes for 69 yards on that drive, capping it off with a 5-yard shovel pass to Jason Snelling that went for the touchdown. Gonzalez had a pair of receptions for 17 yards on the drive, both of them coming on third down. With little more than 2 minutes to go in the third quarter, the Falcons still held their 20-point lead now up 27-7. But it took Wilson only three passes for before he had the Seahawks deep in Falcon territory. A 24-yard grab by Tate was quickly followed two players later with a 26-yard grab by Miller. That put the ball at the Falcons 13-yard line, and three plays later they were at the 1. And Wilson would escape pressure and scramble that last yard to put the Seahawks back on the board, now down 13 points with 13:01 left in the game. Turner ran for 12 yards on his first two carries, but a screen pass to Jones was bottled up for a 1-yard loss, setting up a 2nd & 11 for Atlanta. Ryan got greedy, throwing a deep pass to White which was picked off by Earl Thomas. The very next play, Wilson hit Rice for 24 yards. Then he found Robert Turbin over the middle, who rumbled 30 yards to put the ball at the Falcons 3-yard line. On the next play, Wilson found a wide open Miller for the score. The Seahawks had now cut the Falcons lead to 6 points with 9 minutes still left on the clock. The Falcons offense responded with a three-and-out. But the defense held firm, as the Seahawks were forced to punt after a quick five-play drive. Turner would kick off the Falcons next drive with a 12-yard run. But that was followed up by a pair of runs by Rodgers for only 2 yards, setting up the Falcons for a 3rd & 8 which fell incomplete on a pass to White. That forced another Falcon punt with 3 minutes to go. As the two-minute warning hit, Wilson hit Tate for a 19-yard pass to put the ball in Falcon territory. A checkdown to Lynch would go 24 yards before he was pushed out of bounds at the Falcon 3-yard line with just 34 ticks on the clock. Lynch ran up the middle two plays later for a 2-yard score to give the Seahawks a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left in the game. Rodgers would return the kick 34 yards to give the Falcons favorable field position to attempt the last second field goal. With 25 seconds left on the clock, Ryan hit Harry Douglas for a 22-yard gain. The Falcons then burned their second timeout with 19 seconds left on the clock. Ryan then hit Gonzalez over the middle for a 19-yard gain to put the ball at the Seahawk 31-yard line. Burning their final timeout, the field goal team went out on the field to try from 49 yards. The Seahawks called a timeout to ice Bryant, and he took a practice swing and missed. But with another chance, Bryant hit the ball right down the middle, giving the Falcons the two-point lead with 8 seconds on the clock. But the Falcons made the questionable decision to try a squib kick, but it only went a few yards before the Seahawks fell on it at their own 46-yard line. Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a quick pass for 6 yards, which gave them one more chance from the Falcons 48 with 2 seconds left. Wilson’s hail mary toss in the endzone was intercepted by Julio Jones, ending the game.

The Falcons eked out a victory, but the win will give them confidence heading into next week’s contest against the San Francisco 49ers. This game will mark the first meeting between head coaches Mike Smith and Jim Harbaugh, as the last time the Falcons played the 49ers was in 2010 when Mike Singletary was their head coach. The Falcons beat the 49ers in dramatic fashion with a 16-14 win at home. That game also included a last second Bryant game-winning field goal from 43 yards. Since the league realigned the divisions in 2002, the Falcons have won all 4 meetings with the 49ers, including two at home. Since moving into the Georgia Dome in 1992, the Falcons sport a 6-5 record against the 49ers in that venue. Their lone playoff meeting came following the ’98 season, which resulted in a 20-18 win, another game that came down to the final minutes. That Falcon team that won that game did go on to appear in the Super Bowl that year. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 1-1 at home in the playoffs. This will be the first road playoff game for the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. They sport a 2-1 record in the playoffs thus far under Harbaugh in his two season as head coach.

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