Seahawks vs. Falcons: Instant Grades, Analysis for Atlanta
The Seahawks saw momentum shift in their direction after scoring two touchdowns on back to back drives to start the quarter, one a 1-yard run by Russell Wilson and the other a 3-yard pass to Zach Miller.
But the Falcons came back in the end as Matt Ryan led his team down the field with mere seconds left on the clock, putting his team in field goal range. Kicker Matt Bryant delivered, good from 49 yards out for the game's final score.
The Seahawks scored their first points of the game when quarterback Russell Wilson found Golden Tate for a 29-yard touchdown pass in the second half's opening drive.
The Falcons responded with a touchdown dive of their own after Ryan threw a shovel pass to Jason Snelling for a five-yard score.
A second Matt Bryant field goal gave the Falcons a 13-point lead before the Matt Ryan found Roddy White for a 47-yard touchdown pass on their next offensive possession.
The Falcons took the game's opening possession down into Seattle territory on a methodical drive, coming away with a 39-yard field goal after Matt Ryan's 21-yard pass to Roddy White in the end zone is batted down by cornerback Richard Sherman.
Atlanta then added to that lead late in the quarter, capping off a 61-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Tony Gonzalez.
Matt Ryan finished the game 24/35 for 250 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He made a few questionable throws throughout the game, forcing more than a few passes, and needed his receivers and kicker to bail him out in this one. But he delivered when it mattered most, leading his team to one final scoring drive for the win.
It was an ugly start to the fourth quarter for Matt Ryan, who saw his first pass intercepted after throwing it deep to a double-covered Roddy White down the sideline.
Ryan's woes continued after the team's second offensive drive of the quarter resulted in a punt after Ryan threw his pass short of the first-down marker on 3rd-and-13.
Ryan followed that up by throwing a pass too low for White to make the catch, resulting in his third consecutive three-and-out of the quarter.
But Ryan did what he's done so many other times in his career, and that's lead his team to a comeback in the fourth quarter. Ryan led his team down the field and into field goal range with mere seconds left on the clock en route to the victory.
It was much of the same for Ryan in the third quarter, only on the field for one drive and throwing little but making the most of each of them. Ryan was lightning quick in his reads, took what the defense gave him and hit all of his receivers in the hands for his most effective quarter yet.
Matt Ryan was much more careful with the ball in the second quarter, simply taking what the defense gave him.
On one play, they gave him room to scramble. On another, they gave him Roddy White streaking downfield. Ryan took that last gift to throw a 47-yard bomb to White in stride for a touchdown.
Ryan didn't throw much in the quarter, but when he did, he was effective.
Ryan underestimated Sherman's closing speed on a sure touchdown pass to White that was instead knocked away on the game's opening drive.
He then went ahead and threw an interception on an ill-advised pass in traffic to Tony Gonzalez.
Ryan also needs to give his wideouts a better chance at making the catch on jump balls deep down the field but otherwise was very methodical with his decision-making and did a great job putting the ball where only his receiver could catch it, most notably on his one-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez.
The Falcons found the balance with the running and passing game that had eluded them throughout the season. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones along with tight end Tony Gonzalez were at the top of their game, catching everything thrown their way.
Also well deserving mention is running back Michael Turner, who was the Turner of old after carrying the ball 14 times for 98 yards on the day.
The Falcons' offense couldn't have chosen a better day to play a complete game.
The Falcons were unable to move the ball in this quarter, but that was more the fault of Matt Ryan than the other members of the offense. Ryan had time from his offensive line and his receivers gave their best effort to catch the ball.
Atlanta's third quarter offense: one drive, one touchdown. The passing game was as dominant as it has been all game with Tony Gonzalez making two notable third down catches to extend the drive. However, a dropped pass by Harry Douglas down the sideline and the running game falling off slightly drop this grade.
The big plays continued for Atlanta's offense in the second quarter, with Michael Turner gaining 33 yards on a single carry and White burning Richard Sherman for a 47-yard touchdown catch.
Atlanta still needs to see its offensive line settle down after it was hindered by more missed assignments and penalties.
Nonetheless, Atlanta's ability to gain big plays in both the run and pass is a great sign.
Aside from a few minor lapses by the offensive line, Atlanta's offense was virtually flawless on its two opening drives, scoring a field goal on its first and a touchdown on the second.
The highlights of the quarter were plenty, from backup Chase Coffman stretching out for a first down catch down the sideline, to Gonzalez with a tiptoeing catch in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to running back Jacquizz Rodgers bouncing off tacklers for a 45-yard gain.
Atlanta's offense is rolling on all cylinders right now.
Atlanta's defense got the game started off as well as it could have by shutting out the Seahawks through the first half.
But that all changed in the second half, with the Falcons suddenly seeming powerless the moment John Abraham stepped off the field, allowing three straight touchdown drives by Seattle in the fourth quarter.
They stopped them in the end, but if Atlanta allows the San Francisco 49ers to come back the way they did today, their playoff run will be a short one.
The pass rush completely disappeared in the quarter after John Abraham left the game with an injury, leading to an unbelievable amount of time for Russell Wilson in the pocket. He made the most of it to lead the Seahawks to three straight touchdown drives on a defense that was simply unable to keep up with the receivers down the field.
However, one final stand made up for all of that, keeping the Seahawks out of the end zone on one final hail mary play.
Miscues by the secondary allowed the Seahawks to fly down field on the half's opening possession for a touchdown on a drive that saw the Falcons able to get little pass rush other than a Vance Walker sack.
The quarter ended with the Seahawks driving once again in Falcons territory on their second possession of the quarter as the result of an inability to pressure Russell Wilson, allowing him all the time he needs to find his receivers downfield.
The Falcons remained as energetic in the second quarter as they did in the first, continuing to stuff Seattle's running game, including on 4th-and-1 deep in the red zone.
Then it was the pass rush's turn to make its presence felt and it couldn't have come at a better time after defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux sacked Russell Wilson with time winding down to effectively bring the quarter to a close.
However, the fact the Falcons were unable to keep the Seahawks from getting into the red zone in the first place keeps this grade from being perfect.
The Falcons defense came out energized in the first quarter, getting great penetration early from their defensive line and linebackers to keep Lynch to four yards on two carries on the first drive, leading to a three-and-out by the Seahawks.
The defense then forced and recovered a Marshawn Lynch fumble on the second drive before forcing yet another punt on Seattle's third offensive drive.
The pass rush could be more consistent but great linebacker and secondary play has made up for it so far.
Kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher were as exceptional as usual, with Bryant making yet another clutch field goal to win the game and Bosher repeatedly kicking the ball into the end zone for a touchback though he could have punted the ball better.
The Falcons as a whole could've done a better job containing Leon Washington in the return game, but Bryant's game-winning field goal more than made up for that.
All the pressure was on kicker Matt Bryant to make a 49-yard field goal as the were Falcons down 27-28 with just seconds left on the clock.
He made it.
Nothing more needs to be said for this quarter.
No big plays, but no mistakes, either as Matt Bosher's kickoffs sailed into the endzone for a touchback while Jacquizz Rodgers' lone kickoff return of the quarter went for 17 yards.
Matt Bryant was good from 37-yards out, but poor kickoff coverage which led to a 37-yard return by Leon Washington lowers this grade.
Rodgers returned the opening kickoff 28 yards, kicker Matt Bryant made his 39-yard field goal while the punt and kickoff coverage has been equally as effective.
Mike Smith finally got the playoff monkey off his back, and he couldn't have done it without the wizardry of Dirk Koetter on offense and Mike Nolan's swarming defense.
The pressure was on and while they let the game slip away in the fourth quarter, they were able to pull out the win.
In the end, that's all that really matters.
Atlanta saw its 27-7 lead entering the quarter become a 28-27 lead for the Seahawks with seconds left in the game. Dirk Koetter's amazing play-calling was rendered to ineffective in the game's final phase, while Mike Nolan was unable to make up for John Abraham's absence along the defensive line.
A squib kick at the end of the game may have been the most questionable call of the afternoon, but they were able to lead their team to victory in the end.
Atlanta built a reputation for slowing down in the third quarter throughout the season, but there was no sign of that today.
That was the case as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter continued to call an exceptional game, blending in time-consuming plays and deep shots downfield to advance the ball all while eating up the clock. It resulted in just one offensive drive for the Falcons in the quarter, but one that was capped off by a touchdown and took 7 minutes and 36 seconds to complete.
Defensively, coordinator Mike Nolan needs to figure out what's going on with the middle of his defense, as tight end Zach Miller is seemingly uncovered play after play, resulting in big gains from him in the passing game.
It was a difficult second quarter for Nolan, with neither his blitzes nor zone coverage schemes being able to keep the Seahawks from getting into the red zone on their two offensive drives of the quarter.
Meanwhile, Koetter continued to attack Seattle's defense with effective play-calling, lowering its defenses with short plays and runs before calling a deep bomb downfield.
Now all the Falcons have to do is keep the onslaught going in the second half.
Atlanta's coaches must have fed their players something, because they are feeding off a high. Koetter and Nolan have called a solid gameplan so far, with the Falcons calling a great mix of run and pass on offense and swarming to the ball on defense.