The third playoff game on the schedule had the well traveled Seattle Seahawks heading down south to take on the Atlanta Falcons. The Seahawks were coming off a 24-14 win over the Washington Redskins and the Falcons had a first round bye. The Falcons won the toss and elected to receive. Return man Jacquizz Rodgers fielded the kick three yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the 25. Running back Michael Turner got things off to a good start and rumbled up the right side for a gain of 15 yards. Turner got the call again and got a short gain. Quarterback Matt Ryan then hooked up with tight end Tony Gonzalez for nine yards and a first down at the Seahawk 49. A couple of carries by Rodgers and a 13-yard completion to wide receiver Roddy White put the ball at the 28. Turner and Rodgers gained seven yards on the next two plays and that brought up a third and three at the 21. Ryan threw for White in the end zone, but the ball was knocked away by cornerback Richard Sherman. That brought in kicker Matt Bryant to attempt a 39-yard field goal and the kick was good. The Falcons took an early 3-0 lead with 9:40 to go in the first quarter.
Two carries by running by Marshawn Lynch and an incomplete pass from quarterback Russell Wilson to wide receiver Sidney Rice forced the Seahawks to punt. The Falcons started at the 50 and on third and three from the Seahawk 43, Ryan’s pass intended for Gonzalez was picked off by linebacker Bobby Wagner. That gave the Seahawks the ball at their 33-yard line. A scramble by Wilson got them to the 50. From the 50, Lynch ran up the middle for a nice gain, but the ball was knocked loose by linebacker Sean Witherspoon. There was a mad scramble and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux came up with it at the Falcon 39.
From the 39, Ryan connected with wide receiver Julio Jones for 13 yards. Turner then got another carry for a gain of four. The Seahawks were flagged for a horse collar tackle and that moved them down to the Seahawk 29. A short run and a false start made it third and 14 from the 33. Ryan calmly stood in the pocket and completed a 16-yard pass to White for a first down at the 17. From the 17, Ryan floated one up the right sideline for tight end Chase Coffman. He was ruled out of bounds at the one-yard line. From there, Gonzalez made a nice catch in the back of the end zone for a Falcon touchdown. Bryant made the point after and the Falcons went up 10-0 with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter.
The Seahawks started at their 20 and on the strength of two receptions by tight end Zach Miller, got down to the Falcon 44. On third and eight from the 42, Wilson’s pass to wide receiver Golden Tate was incomplete. They punted again and the ball was downed at the 13-yard line. From the 13, Rodgers burst up the middle, bounced off a big hit and ran 45 yards to the Seahawk 42. Completions to Jones and White netted another first down at the 30. The drive came to an end at the 19 and Bryant made his 37-yard attempt to put the Falcons up 13-0 with 9:13 to go in the first half.
Passes to Miller and Tate put the Seahawks at the Falcon 20. A three-yard gain and a six-yard catch by Lynch made it third and one at the 11. For me, the answer to getting a first down on third and short is to give it to Lynch. He was standing on the sideline and the carry went to Robert Turbin for no gain. Seahawk head coach Pete Carrol decided to go for it on fourth and short. This time, Lynch was back on the field. But he didn’t get the ball. Fullback Michael Robinson did and he was stuffed for no gain. I honestly don’t understand why Lynch wasn’t used to get the first down. The Seahawks turned the ball over on downs.
With 5:33 to go in the half, the Falcons looked to increase their lead. A 33-yard run by Turner on second and seven from the 15 got them off to a good start. A defensive holding call on the Seahawks got them into Seahawk territory. On first down from the 47, Ryan went deep down the middle of the field and the pass was caught by White for a 47-yard touchdown. Bryant made the point after and the Falcons now led 20-0 with 4:16 to go.
The Seahawks got the ball at their 20. Some scrambling by Wilson and passes to Tate, Rice and Miller had them at the Falcon 19 with time ticking away. A nine-yard pass to Miller and a four yard-pass to Tate made it first and goal at the nine. That was followed by a three-yard pass to Rice, a false start and an incomplete pass to Tate. On third and goal from the 11, Wilson was sacked by Babineaux. With no timeouts, Wilson tried to get his offense set for one more play. Time ran out and they didn’t get the play off. The Falcons took a 20-0 lead into the locker room.
The Seahawks knew they really had to get something going quickly or this game may end up being a blowout. Another touch-back meant they would be starting at their 20 again. An 11-yard completion to Rice, a short gain by Lynch and a 17-yard scramble by Wilson had the Seahawks at midfield. Carries by Lynch, Wilson and Turbin netted another first down at the Falcon 40. Wilson was sacked on the next play for a loss of eight by defensive tackle Vance Walker. But, on second and 18, he hooked up with Miller again for 19 yards and a first down at the 29. Tate took it the rest of the way as he caught a pass on the left side and weaved his way into the end zone for a touchdown. Newly acquired kicker Ryan Longwell made the point after and the Seahawks now trailed 20-7 with 9:47 to go in the third quarter.
Rodgers returned the kickoff to the 20 and the Falcons went looking for another score. A five-yard carry by Turner and a six-yard pass to Gonzalez moved them to the 31. Ryan then spread the ball around to Rodgers, Jones and wide receiver Harry Douglass for a first down at the Seahawk 44. On second and ten from the 44, Ryan tossed a short pass to Jones who turned it into a 21-yard gain. On third and nine from the 22, Gonzalez caught another pass for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 11. On first down, Rodgers caught a pass for six yards to make it second and goal from the five. From the five, Ryan completed a pass to running back Jason Snelling who took it in for the score. Bryant made the point after and the Falcons now led 27-7 with 2:11 to go in the third quarter.
The Seahawks were now officially in “panic mode.” Lynch ran up the right side for five yards and Tate caught another pass for a gain of 24 yards. That was followed by a 12-yard pass to Rice and a 26-yard pass to Miller. All that passing got them down to the Falcon 13. From the 13, Wilson threw a short pass to the right side that was caught by Turbin for a gain of seven yards. A carry by Turbin moved the ball to the one-yard line and made it first and goal. On second down, the Falcons brought the pressure up the middle, Wilson faked the hand-off to Lynch and took the ball in for a touchdown. Longwell made the point after and it was now 27-14 with 13 minutes to go in the game.
I was thinking the Falcons may want to take some time off the clock on their next drive. They had the ball for exactly one minute and 58 seconds. That’s because on second and 11 from the Falcon 32, Ryan went deep into double coverage looking for White. White fell down at the Seahawk 39 and the ball was easily picked off by safety Earl Thomas. That gave the Seahawks another chance to close the gap. They went 62 yards in four plays with the big plays being a 24-yard pass to Rice and a 30-yard catch and run by Turbin. That got them a first and goal from the three. From there, Wilson found Miller wide open for a touchdown. Longwell made the point after and it was now 27-21 and there was an eerie hush over the Atlanta faithful.
Again, I thought the Falcons would pound the ball with Turner and Rodgers to take the clock down. But, with 9:13 to go, they called three pass plays that got them exactly three freaking yards and took only 1:50 off the clock. They punted the ball back to the Seahawks who took over at their 40. The Falcon defense rose up this time and forced a punt. The ball hit the goal line for a touch-back and the Falcons went to work from their 20. This “drive” got them a grand total of 14 yards (12 came on a carry by Turner) and took 2:32 off the clock.
So, with exactly three minutes to go in the game, the Seahawks found themselves at their 39 with a chance to take the lead. A three-yard run and a seven-yard catch by Lynch got them a first down at the 49. Tate was wide open in the middle of the field on the next play and Wilson connected with him for a gain of 19. That made it first down at the Falcon 32. Wilson scrambled for a gain of five and on third and five from the 27, Wilson was flushed out of the pocket and looked for a receiver. He found Lynch and he took the ball down to the three-yard line. The Falcons were flagged for 12 men on the field and that moved the ball to the two. From the two, Lynch ran off right guard for a touchdown. Or was it? The ball came loose as he entered the end zone, but replay showed it had crossed the plane before it came loose. Longwell made the point after and that put the Seahawks up 28-27 with just 31 seconds to go.
The Falcons started at their 28 and Ryan quickly hooked up with Douglass for a gain of 22 yards. Just like that, they were at midfield and called their second timeout. From the 50, Ryan completed a pass to Gonzalez at the 31. In two plays, the Falcons went 41 yards. What kind of defense was that, Seattle? With 13 seconds remaining, the Falcons called their final timeout and Bryant came on for the crucial field goal attempt. The Seahawks called timeout, but Bryant kicked the ball anyway. It sailed wide right. But, with Seattle calling that timeout, Bryant had another chance. This time, his kick was good and the Falcons led 30-27 with eight seconds to go.
The ensuing kickoff was very short and the Seahawks recovered it at their 46. Wilson completed a pass to wide receiver Doug Baldwin and he ran out of bounds at the Falcon 46 with two seconds to go. So, what do you do? Try a 64-yard field goal? You’re in a dome, why not give it a shot? Longwell was standing on the sideline waiting for a chance. That chance never came. Wilson threw a deep pass for the end zone that ended up being picked off by Julio Jones. That’s how the game ended. Final score: Falcons 30 Seahawks 28. The Falcons will go on to face the 49ers in Atlanta for the NFC championship.
For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 24 of 36 for 385 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Zach Miller had a stellar day and led the team in receptions with eight and yards with 142 and one touchdown. Wilson was also the leading rusher with 60 yards on seven carries and one touchdown. All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 123 yards on 28 carries. Defensively, linebacker Bobby Wagner led the defense with seven solo tackles, an interception and one pass defensed.
For the Falcons, Matt Ryan completed 24 of 35 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones tied for the lead in receptions with six and Roddy White had the most receiving yards with 76 and a touchdown. Michael Turner rumbled for 98 yards on 14 carries and as a team, the Falcons racked up 167 yards on 26 carries. Defensively, Sean Witherspoon and cornerback Asante Samuel led the team in solo tackles with five apiece. Witherspoon also forced a fumble.
Well, after years of frustration and saying he was 95% sure he was going to retire, Tony Gonzalez finally got his first playoff win. Hey it had to happen eventually, right? It was fitting that his catch on the final drive put the Falcons in position for the game winning field goal. They’ll have their hands full next week against the 49ers. One game remains on the schedule and that’s the Texans and the Patriots. I’ll be back at the conclusion of that game for a recap.