There are good football games, there are great football games and then there are absolutely crazy and wonderful football games like the Atlanta Falcons' 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional round.
This game had a little bit of everything. The Falcons offense was unstoppable for three quarters and didn't even punt until midway through the fourth. The Seahawks overcame a 27-7 lead in the fourth quarter and took a 28-27 lead with just 31 seconds remaining.
Oh yeah, there was also a game-wining field goal from nearly 50 yards after Matt Ryan showed great poise in leading the Falcons down the field in just two plays.
Let's see you top that, Houston Texans and New England Patriots.
The game may have gone completely bonkers in the fourth quarter, but it was all about Atlanta for the first three.
The Falcons drove down the field on their first drive, threatening to open the game with a touchdown. But Richard Sherman brilliantly deflected a Matt Ryan pass to Roddy White in the end zone on third down, and the Falcons settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
After forcing a 3-and-out on Seattle's first possession, the Falcons looked to have the early momentum with a boisterous Georgia Dome crowd behind them. But Matt Ryan threw an interception to linebacker Bobby Wagner after the Falcons had crossed midfield, and the Seahawks were back in business.
But Ryan would be redeemed, as Marshawn Lynch fumbled the ball back to Atlanta just three plays later. The Falcons took advantage of the short field, and Ryan found Tony Gonzalez for a one-yard touchdown strike.
It was a rough first half for the Seahawks. The team would give up another field goal, which was set up by this epic Jacquizz Rodgers run.
After getting the ball back, the Seahawks drove down the field but found themselves in a 4th-and-1 at Atlanta's 11-yard line. Rather than take the points, the Seahawks rolled the dice and went for it.
Michael Robinson was stuffed for a loss, and the Falcons would eventually turn that turnover into a 47-yard strike from Ryan to White, taking a 20-0 lead.
The Seahawks were on the ropes—and they would stay there. Despite driving down the field just before the half, Russell Wilson was sacked with the Seahawks in the red zone, and the clock ran out, as the team had no timeouts remaining.
Things couldn't have gone much worse for Seattle after two quarters.
But the Seahawks weren't about to give in. Wilson would lead the Seahawks 80 yards in nine plays to start the second half, capping things off with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. There was life for the visitors.
It was short-lived. On the very next drive, Ryan took the Falcons 80 yards himself on 14 plays, hitting Jason Snelling on a shovel pass for a five-yard scoot into the end zone. The Falcons offense was not to be denied on this day, or so it seemed with the team up 27-7.
Again, Seattle would answer. For the second drive in a row, Wilson would lead the Seahawks 80 yards before rolling left and taking it into the end zone himself from a yard away. But could the defense finally make a stand and keep the Falcons out of the end zone?
Indeed it could. Matt Ryan incomprehensibly decided to loft a fade to White despite the receiver being double-covered the next drive, and safety Earl Thomas came down with an interception at Seattle's 38-yard line. Finally, the defense made a play.
Four plays later, the Seahawks had lessened the deficit to 27-20, as Wilson found Zach Miller wide open in the end zone from three yards. That touchdown was set up by a 30-yard catch-and-run by Robert Turbin.
After that, the Seattle defense kept the Seahawks in the game, forcing two punts down the stretch. That would give Wilson and the Seahawks a chance to drive for the game-winning touchdown from their own 39-yard line with just three minutes on the clock.
Did you really doubt Wilson in this situation? The rookie quarterback coolly led the Seahawks down the field in seven plays, with Marshawn Lynch scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a two-yard touchdown plunge.
The improbable comeback had come to fruition. And just as improbably, it would all be for naught.
The Seahawks made the mistake of leaving 31 seconds on the clock. That was just enough time for Ryan to make amends for his two interceptions in the game, driving the Falcons 41 yards in two plays to set up Matt Bryant's game-winning 49-yard field goal.
What a game. What an absolute gem of a game.
Players of the Game
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Coming into this game, I believed Turner was going to be the key player for Atlanta's offense. I believed that if he could run successfully, Atlanta would win the game.
Very quietly, Turner did just that, rushing 14 times for 98 yards. He was joined by Jacquizz Rodgers (10 rushes for 64 yards) as Atlanta surprisingly ran the ball with great success on Sunday.
But it was Turner that kept the Seattle defense off-balance and helped the Falcons string together long touchdown drives. Rodgers may be the man in the Atlanta backfield as soon as next season, but on this afternoon Turner's contributions were key.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
What else can you say about Russell Wilson? He finished 24-of-36 with 385 passing yards and two touchdowns (plus an interception on the game-ending Hail Mary try), rushed seven times for 60 yards and another score and led his team back from a 20-point deficit.
Wilson would be worthy of an A+ grade in this game if it wasn't for the the sack he took at the end of the first half, which cost the team a chance to kick a field goal—which, it turns out, would have likely won Seattle the game. Still, what a performance by Wilson. The kid is a winner, even if he didn't get the win today.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
For Ryan, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Yes, he threw two interceptions. Yes, the stat sheet will tell you he threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns as well. Yes, Falcons fans were surely feeling sick as Ryan and the Falcons offense was forced to punt twice late in the fourth quarter.
But with the chips on the table, Ryan led the Falcons 41 yards in two passes and gave his team the chance to win. Until now, the book on Ryan had been that he choked in the playoffs.
Not this time, folks. Finally, Matty Ice lived up to his nickname.
You may know Old Hoss Radbourn as the funniest fictional baseball account around, but the old fella hilariously weighed in on the Seahawks after the team's terrible first half:
This game is so bad that Seattle has lost the right to steal the Kings from Sacramento.— Old Hoss Radbourn (@OldHossRadbourn) January 13, 2013
I dunno, Hoss, I kind of miss the SuperSonics. But yeah, I still laughed.
As Don Banks of Sports Illustrated noted at the half, the Seahawks' woes in the red zone looked like they would cost the team the game:
So two Seattle red zone possessions result in zero points. One you might be able to survive. Two? That's probably curtains.— Don Banks (@DonBanks) January 13, 2013
He was right.
One thing was for certain—when the Seahawks came back by a 20-point deficit and cut the lead to six, folks across Atlanta were bummed out. Just take a look at this kid (via Bleacher Report):
Falcons fans are stunned as the Seahawks have cut the lead to six points twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 13, 2013
As Wilson was leading the Seahawks down the field for the go-ahead score, Will Brinson of CBS unleashed this absolutely hilarious tweet:
Russell Wilson takes pressure out to a nice steak dinner and then makes love to it on the first date.— Will Brinson (@willbrinson) January 13, 2013
He probably tips really well, too.
But there was another quarterback in this game, and one that would have gotten absolutely skewered had the Falcons lost. As Aaron Schatz of ESPN noted, we can hold off the "Matt Ryan is a choker" talk (well, at least for one more week):
Other note: Glad we're done with "Matt Ryan doesn't have the moral strength to win in the playoffs." Good riddance to that crap.— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) January 13, 2013
& now we are 4 quarters away from finishing what *might* be greatest divisional weekend in history.— Scott Hanson (@ScottHanson) January 13, 2013
Man, football is the best, isn't it?