Sunday's divisional round action kicked off with a matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, as quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons faced a stout Seattle defense with a trip to the NFC championship game on the line.
The Falcons have faced questions about their worthiness as a No. 1 seed and reminders of their recent playoff failures all week, and as Tom Brady's ego pointed out, 13-3 teams usually get quite a bit more respect from the media.
That awkward moment when the Kardashians get more respect than the Atlanta Falcons.— Tom Brady's Ego (@TomBradysEgo) January 13, 2013
That lack of respect continued into Sunday, with experts such as Tom Jackson of ESPN predicting a Seattle victory.
"I think Atlanta is playing a better football team in the Seattle Seahawks" - Tom Jackson— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 13, 2013
However, the Falcons came out pounding the rock. The team took the opening kickoff and drove 54 yards, but a great play in the end zone by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman limited Atlanta to a field goal and drew some heady praise from Chris Doyle.
Richard Sherman might be the best corner in the league (including Revis)— Chris Doyle (@CDOYLE27) January 13, 2013
However, Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon gave less credit to Sherman than blame for Ryan:
No way should Sherman catch Roddy here. Poor throw by Matt Ryan, needed a lot more velocity on it. twitter.com/IanKenyonNFL/s…— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) January 13, 2013
The Seahawks went three-and-out on their first possession, but after a poor punt, Ryan committed the game's first gaffe.
Matt Ryan intercepted by Bobby Wagner. Looks like he's in true playoff form today. #SEAvsATL— NOT SportsCenter (@NOTSportsCenter) January 13, 2013
Thankfully for Ryan and the Falcons, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was kind enough to return the favor a few plays later, and as ESPN's Trey Wingo relayed, ball security has been an issue for Lynch in these playoffs.
marshawn lynch lost two fumbles in 16 regular season games. He's now lost two in two playoff games— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 13, 2013
The Falcons made Lynch and Seattle pay for that mistake.
With the assistance of a horse-collar penalty by linebacker Bobby Wagner, Atlanta put the ball in the end zone for the game's first touchdown. Ryan found tight end Tony Gonzalez, whom SportsCenter reminded us was still searching for his first career playoff win.
Tony Gonzalez is desperately trying to win his first career playoff game.That toe-tapping catch is #SCtop10 worthy!— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 13, 2013
The first quarter concluded with Atlanta running back Jacquizz Rodgers trucking safety Earl Thomas on a 45-yard run, and that rumble left fantasy football expert Jim Day wondering if Rodgers had a secret weapon Sunday.
Okay, who did it? Who the hell gave Jacquizz Rodgers some skittles?— Jim Day (@Fantasytaz) January 13, 2013
That run helped lead to a Matt Bryant field goal, but even with the Seahawks trailing 13-0, fans of the team such as Sean Avidano were still confident.
That confidence may have been shaken shortly thereafter. With Marshawn Lynch on the sidelines, the Seahawks were stuffed on third down and then on 4th-and-short in a sequence that left Mike Greenberg of ESPN shaking his head.
I can't tell you how much I hated the play calling in that sequence...#Seahawks— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 13, 2013
The Seahawks would pay dearly for that blunder.
After continuing to pound away at a supposedly stout Seattle run defense, the Falcons went for the home run ball. After Matt Ryan hooked up with Roddy White from 47 yards out, it was 20-0 Atlanta and the Seahawks were in serious trouble.
That play gave the imaginary mind of an NFL great a chance to pontificate, and me an opportunity to post my requisite tweet from Faux John Madden.
Richard Sherman seemed to lose a lot of focus on Roddy White there.. if only he took something for that..— Faux John Madden (@FauxJohnMadden) January 13, 2013
The Seahawks, with their backs against the wall, desperately needed to respond at this point, but while the team was able to once again drive deep into Atlanta territory, once again disaster struck.
On 3rd-and-goal from the 11-yard line, quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked by defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. As Ian Kenyon showed, the play was reminiscent of a similar costly mistake in the 2012 Rose Bowl.
Seahawks 1 TD in 8 RZ possessions in playoffs.— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@espn_nfcwest) January 13, 2013
The Seahawks opened the second half with the football, and this time the team was finally able to convert a drive into points.
A nine-play, 78-yard drive culminated in a 29-yard pass to wide receiver Golden Tate, but in the opinion of Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter, that just made Seattle's mistake at the end of the first half look even bigger.
The Seahawks strike to start 3rd Q, but the debacle to end the first half looms even larger now.— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) January 13, 2013
However, any momentum the Seahawks may have built up was dispatched in emphatic fashion.
Not only did the Falcons answer Atlanta's touchdown with a scoring drive of their own, but that 14-play, 80-yard drive ate up over half the third quarter and sat very well with the man who was in the backfield the only time the Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl.
Great play call, execution. What a drive. Score, smash clock, extend lead.... Falcons did, #RiseUp. 27-7.— Jamal Anderson (@jamthedirtybird) January 13, 2013
The third quarter closed with the Seahawks trailing 27-7 but driving, and were it not for the fourth-down stuff and poor clock management, we could have been watching a much different football game.
That point was emphasized when Russell Wilson scrambled into the end zone as the final quarter got underway, as hammered home by ESPN's Greenberg.
Seattle glass 1/2 empty: Think where they'd be with two chip shot FGs they didn't try in the first half... #Seahawks— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 13, 2013
Then, just when the Falcons could least afford it, the struggles that have dogged Matt Ryan in the playoffs in his career once again reared their head.
Matt Ryan lofts a bad throw into double coverage and is picked off by Earl Thomas. Seattle ball with 11:03 to go down 13.— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 13, 2013
Sure enough, the Seahawks made Ryan pay for the bad throw, and after Wilson found tight end Zach Miller wide open in the end zone, suddenly it was a six-point ballgame, leaving some to wonder if we weren't in for a repeat of Saturday's first contest.
REPORT: The Atlanta Falcons say they just want to be like the Denver Broncos.— Skip Bayless (@FunSkipBayless) January 13, 2013
In dire need of a response, a suddenly reeling Atlanta team went three-and-out, shifting the pressure squarely to their defense.
That defense answered the call with a stop of their own, and as the clock crept under six minutes, fans on both sides were furiously trying to will their teams to a win.
now lets control the clock lets go @atlanta_falcons— SUPERNATE (@supernate135) January 13, 2013
#seahawks need to pull this one out! BEAST MODE TIME— Jeff Bush (@JeffBush6) January 13, 2013
The Falcons managed only a single first down before being forced to punt the ball with just over three minutes left, and Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were left to start the drive that would likely define the game from their own 39-yard line.
As the clock ticked down, Seattle moved the ball inside the Atlanta 30. As Wilson found Lynch on a screen that moved the ball inside the 5-yard line, FOX Sports pointed out that Wilson made NFL history in Sunday's game.
Russell Wilson's 336 passing yards are now the most every by a rookie QB in a playoff game, breaking Sammy Baugh's (335) record set in 1937.— FOX SPORTS: NFL (@NFLONFOX) January 13, 2013
Then, it happened.
The replay was confirmed; the extra point was good. It was 28-27 Seattle.
Just when it appeared, however, that hope was lost, the Falcons were able to complete a pair of passes, and Matt Bryant took the field with a chance to push Atlanta into the NFC championship game from 49 yards out.
A first attempt that was wide was cancelled out by a timeout, and then...
But wait! There's more! A ludicrously short squib kick left the Seahawks with one last gasp, and with everyone's memories shifted back to the infamous "Fail Mary" play, Seattle lined up for one more snap.
For the Seattle Seahawks, a furious comeback falls just short, and while the team is certainly disappointed, Bleacher Report's Sigmund Bloom is spot-on in his assessment that they really have no reason to be.
#seahawks have no reason to hang their heads, young team and doing everything right way. Lots more important January games to come.— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) January 13, 2013
For the Atlanta Falcons, they may have done it in the most heart-attack-inducing way possible, but the team and quarterback Matt Ryan finally have the playoff monkey off their backs.
It's a huge win for the team, even if impressions of the victory run the gamut from jubilation to indictment of the team as a deeply flawed top seed.
Nobody had more pressure on them going into the weekend than the Falcons, and nobody endured more pressure during the game than the Falcons.— Don Banks (@DonBanks) January 13, 2013
I think the 49ers just saw the gameplay to expose the Falcons D.Kaepernick could go off again next week.— JuanElway (@JuanElway) January 13, 2013
That game with the 49ers will come soon enough, but for now, as a teary-eyed Tony Gonzalez celebrates his first career playoff win, it's all smiles in Atlanta.