Tony Gonzalez tight-ropes along the back of the endzone for a TD.
For nearly an entire week, football pundits esteemed, ad nauseum, the virtues of the Seattle Seahawks and the likelihood the red hot squad from the Pacific Northwest would advance to the NFC Championship Game. Well as they say, that’s why they play the game. The Falcons charged out to a 20-0 lead in the first half only to need a 49 yard field goal from Matt Bryant in the final seconds to overtake the persistent Seahawks 30-28.
“The outsiders said we can’t win in the playoffs, now they have to come up with other things to say,” said Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
Despite the palpitations Falcons fans claimed to experience prior to the winning kick, the win was fairly par for the course over the last couple of seasons. “We’ve done it before,” said Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. “I wish we didn’t have to do it like that, but I’ll take it.” Nail biting wins has been atypical for Atlanta beginning with their 30-28 come from behind win over NFC South rival Carolina in week 3. Add to that close wins over Oakland, Dallas, and Arizona at home and Tampa on the road.
Atlanta channeled some of the energy from their total beat down of the New York Giants to jump out to a 20-0 lead in the first half.
The Seahawks weren’t without scoring opportunities in the red zone. “We had five opportunities to score in the first half and just didn’t get it done,” said Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll. Twice in the last half of the second quarter, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson guided Seattle down to the Atlanta 11 yard line only to come up empty each time.
A field goal on either of those two drives and San Francisco would have had to figure out how to beat the team that hung 42 points on them in week 16 of the regular season.
Running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers helped set the tone early bashing through the Seahawks 10th ranked run defense for a combined 133 yards in the opening half. According to Rodgers, the Falcons exploited the aggressiveness of the Seahawks defense. “They (Seattle) are a tough and physical unit for sure,” said Rodgers. “However, we wanted to use their aggressive style of defense against them. For instance, because they play eight men in the box, we thought we could gash them for big plays.”
“We tackled so poorly,” said Carroll. “We had a whole thought about getting underneath them and they were able to get by us.”
The poor tackling must have been contagious because the Falcons defense suffered from it in the second half. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate took advantage of it on the first drive of the third quarter running through a Dunta Robinson shoulder bump for a 29 yard score. Several other missed tackles in the fourth quarter extended drives and contributed to a 21 point comeback. Tate set up the Seahawks go-ahead touchdown breaking three tackles for a 19 yard gain after the two-minute warning.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown with 34 seconds to play proved to be just enough for Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan. Before taking the field for the final drive, Ryan delivered a rather mild pep talk. “It’s not a big fire and brimstone speech,” said Ryan. “It’s more of just, ‘let’s go out there and do our job. We’ve got time, we’ve got the timeouts, we need to execute’.” Ryan answered his critics throwing for 41 of his 250 yards to set up the game winning field goal.
The loss was disappointing to Wilson for about 5 minutes. The rookie, who threw for 385 yards, rushed for 60 more and accounted for 3 touchdowns took it in stride before turning his sights on the future. “When the game was over I was very disappointed, but right before I got back to the tunnel – walking off the field – I got so excited for the next opportunity, next year.,” said Wilson. “I’m looking forward to what we have in the future.”
A view that Pete Carroll shares because of the talented rookies the team brought in this season. “This whole rookie class is ridiculously good,” said Carroll. “The future is so bright for this team.”
While most players will be heading off to the Pro Bowl or to rest up before OTAs in the spring, Wilson isn’t going far from his playbook. “I probably won’t take any time off knowing me,” he said. “My wife and I will go on our honeymoon but other than that I’ll probably be right back at it tomorrow.”
Despite earning their first playoff win in 8 years (2004 – Rams 27-10), the Falcons will probably be tagged as underdogs again when they face San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. Odds are nice conversation topics but they don’t win games. So far, the Falcons have been able to prove the odds makers wrong. One more performance and they will get an opportunity to play for all the marbles, wax and cookies.
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