It was the first Falcons victory in four postseason games for coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.
The game was a contrast of first half and second half. Atlanta opened the game with a long drive for a field goal, then ran and passed for chunks of yardage almost at will, it seemed, while the defense dominated, stopping Seattle on fourth-and-one at the goal line. The first half ended with Atlanta up 20-0.
That sterling performance eased some of the anxiety of fans over Atlanta’s past inability to win in the postseason but then came the second half. The roles were reversed with Seattle’s quarterback, Russell Wilson, passing and running to take the lead 28-27 with a mere 31 seconds left in the game — the perfect situation for Atlanta’s “Mattie Ice” Ryan. He had been there before.
Ryan connected on a 22-yard pass to receiver Harry Douglas, followed with a 19-yard strike to the great tight end Tony Gonzalez, and turned the game over to kicker Matt Bryant who split the uprights from 49 yards away with 13 seconds left. Final score: Atlanta 30, Seattle 28.
Now comes the toughest challenge yet — the red hot San Francisco 49ers who beat the Green Bay Packers 45-31 to win the AFC divisional title. 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick dismantled the Packers.
In only his eighth start as a pro, he racked up 183 yards, an NFL quarterback record, ran for two touchdowns and hit favorite receiver Michael Crabtree with two pinpoint passes for TDs.
So it’s not surprising that Kaepernick is featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated national edition in full tattoo colors, a gridiron gladiator that can baffle and beat opposing teams with his arm and his feet.
Sportswriters have been quick to point out that the Falcons have had problems with running quarterbacks. Seattle’s Wilson had 445 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s game. Carolina’s Cam Newton, the sensation from Auburn, likewise compiled big yardage against Atlanta this past season as did Michael Vick of Philadelphia, although the Falcons proved something when they put the brakes on Washington’s outstanding running rookie QB Robert Griffin III before he left that game with a concussion in the third quarter.
Another major factor will be whether the talented Falcons defensive end John Abraham is up to speed for the game against the 49ers. He had to leave the Seattle game in the second quarter after a previous ankle injury flared up. With Abraham out of action, Seattle pounded Atlanta, gaining a 28-27 advantage until Matt Ryan put the Falcons in position for the winning field goal in the final seconds of the game.
The Falcons proved they can win in the postseason. They can do it again. Go Falcons!