Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez handed out an uncountable number of smiles and hugs, was unable to fight back tears of joy and ran off the Georgia Dome field fists pumping in the air and skipping like a 7-year-old boy who just won his first trophy.
In a way, he did win his first trophy on Sunday.
When Matt Bryant kicked his 49-yard field goal with eight seconds left in Sunday’s divisional-round playoff matchup with the Seattle Seahawks and when Julio Jones, of all people, came down with the game-saving end-zone interception on Russell Wilson’s end-of-game Hail Mary, Gonzalez finally was able to capture something that had eluded him in each of his 15 years prior in the NFL.
In what has surely been a Hall of Fame career, Gonzalez’ teams had qualified for the playoffs five times prior to 2012 and he had come away empty-handed each time. Three times with the Kansas City Chiefs Gonzalez was one and done from the playoffs.
On his third attempt with the Falcons, he finally got his big win.
“We do a two-minute offense every week,” said Gonzalez. “Statistically I’m not naive, most of the time it’s hard to come up with those plays with 30 seconds left, but we knew we could do it because we’ve done it before.
Those words ring true about Atlanta’s knack for fourth-quarter comebacks. Not so much for wins in the playoffs.
The Falcons, since the arrival of head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008, have been mired in the postseason muck. Atlanta’s won 56 regular season games over the last five seasons, but never a playoff game.
There was the 2008 wild card loss to the Arizona Cardinals. In 2010 the Falcons were beat down by the Green Bay Packers after securing a bye week. And last year, Atlanta was embarrassed by the New York Giants, failing to score but two points.
This franchise needed a playoff win. This city needed it, too.
With a 20-0 lead at halftime, the Falcons had their fanbase feeling good about the chances of Smith and Ryan ending their playoff-win drought.
Then Seattle scored on its first possession of the half. After the Falcons matched Seattle’s score, Seattle went on a tear.
In the span of 12:30 in the fourth quarter, Seattle scored three touchdowns. The Seahawks’ final score put them one point better on the scoreboard with just 31 seconds to play in the game.
Then Matty Ice went to work.
Ryan hit Harry Douglas on a 22-yard pass play that Ryan later called a “tough, physical catch.” On his next throw Ryan connected with Gonzalez for 19 yards, moving the ball to the Seattle 31-yard line.
Bryant, who missed his first field-goal attempt after being iced by Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, nailed the 49-yarder to win the game.
“It’ll be nice,” said Ryan about the fact that he’ll never have to hear the question about his lack of a playoff win again. “We still have some work to do.”
Ryan will also have to share some of the comeback credit this time.
"I feel like we have two Matty Ice's—Ryan and Bryant," said Smith after the game.
As long as they’re winning playoff games in Atlanta, it’s likely no one cares who gets the credit.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.