Via Chicago Tribune
In a heartbreaker for Seattle, Atlanta wins…by a nailbiter.
ATLANTA — The quarterback with the most regular-season victories over the last five seasons finally has one in the postseason.
Falcons defensive end Vance Walker (99) chases down Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) in the third quarter of the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome. (USA Today Sports Photo / January 13, 2013)
In the spotlight where he has stumbled previously, Matt Ryan came up big Sunday at the Georgia Dome and avoided a major scare in helping lift the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game with a 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Matt Bryant’s 49-yard field goal with eight seconds to play rescued the Falcons after the Seahawks rallied to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds remaining.
Before a raucous home crowd that has been accustomed to major letdowns in recent seasons, Ryan was sharp and got help from an unheralded defense and running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers to wear down the Seahawks, who could not win in the Eastern time zone for a second consecutive weekend.
The Falcons, the NFC’s top seed, will host the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. It will be an opportunity for Ryan, who has 56 wins in the regular season since being the third overall pick in 2008, to establish himself as one of the game’s elite quarterbacks.
Coming off the best season of his career under first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Ryan threw three touchdown passes to defeat the Seahawks but a costly interception in the fourth quarter by Seattle safety Earl Thomas made it a game late.
Marshawn Lynch’s 2-yard TD run capped Seattle’s comeback from a 27-7 third-quarter deficit and left the Falcons with barely over a half a minute to save their season. But Ryan quickly guided the team into Bryant’s field-goal range.
Seattle didn’t do itself any favors and miscues in the first half will be replayed throughout the offseason. The Seahawks fell in a 20-0 hole at halftime but it should not have been that bad. They reached the Atlanta 11-yard line on two occasions in the second quarter but came away with no points.
First, fullback Michael Robinson was stuffed for a one-yard loss on fourth-and-1 by safety William Moore, a curious call by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who ran on consecutive plays without calling Lynch’s number. Then, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked on a third-and-goal from the 11 in the closing seconds of the first half and the Seahawks, out of timeouts, were not able to get another play off. The six points that were missed loomed large.
Atlanta’s run defense thwarted Lynch, limiting him to 46 yards on 16 carries. That put pressure on Wilson (24-0f-36 for 385 yards passing and 60 yards on seven rushes), who nearly engineered a terrific comeback. He did most of his damage throwing to tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Golden Tate.
The Falcons reached the postseason in three of the previous four years only to be blown out in their first game each time. The Falcons were blitzed 24-2 by the Giants in the wild-card round a year ago. As the No. 1 seed in 2010, the Falcons were crushed 48-21 in the divisional round by the Packers. They lost at home to the Cardinals in 2008.
But with a juiced-up offense more reliant on the passing game under Koetter and a defense re-tooled by new coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons look stout. Ryan threw touchdown passes to Roddy White, on a 47-yard bomb, and tight end Tony Gonzalez, on a one-yard play fake, in the first half in building the big lead.
The Seahawks rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the wild-card round the week before at FedEx Field after the Washington Redskins scored on their first two possessions. But they didn’t eliminate their red-zone woes until the second half. Wilson fired a 29-yard touchdown pass to Tate and then Wilson scored on a one-yard run to bring the Seahawks within 27-14 with 13:01 to play.
After the Thomas interception, Seattle quickly drove down and score again as this time Wilson hit Miller for a three-yard score to bring the Seahawks within 27-21. Seattle quickly got the ball back again with 7:23 remaining but punted after picking up just one first down.
For Bears fans, the game pitted two possible coaching prospects against one another. Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and Seahawks offensive coordinator Bevell have both interviewed with general manager Phil Emery for the job. Bevell’s interview took place on Saturday in Atlanta. The winner will be off-limits to the Bears for at least one more week. The loser could be freed up for more involvement in the process this week.
News Source: Chicago Tribune/AP
Next up: The Falcons will face the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday at 3:00 pm at the Georgia Dome for the NFC Championship!
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