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01/13/2013 7:13 PM EST
Bryant's late FG lifts Falcons over Seattle 30-28
ATLANTA 30, SEATTLE 28

By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) -- Matt Bryant pumped his fist and celebrated atop
the Falcons logo in the middle of the field. Tony Gonzalez broke
down in tears. Matt Ryan relished the thought of not having to
answer a familiar question.



The Atlanta Falcons finally showed they could win a playoff
game.



And, wow, what a game it was!



After a meltdown in the fourth quarter, the Falcons pulled off a
comeback that will long be remembered in championship-starved
Atlanta. Ryan completed two long passes and Bryant kicked a
49-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining, lifting the NFC's
top seed to a stunning 30-28 victory over Russell Wilson and the
gutty Seattle Seahawks in a divisional game Sunday.



"Wow!" said Falcons coach Mike Smith, summing up this classic as
well as anyone could.



Atlanta (14-3) squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter,
falling behind for the first time all day when Marshawn Lynch
scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left and Ryan Longwell
knocked through the extra point for a 28-27 lead.



No team has ever won a playoff game when facing such a daunting
deficit in the final period.



The Falcons, thanks to a pair of Matty Ices - Ryan and Bryant -
didn't become the first.



Ryan, shaking off his struggles in three previous playoff losses
and two interceptions against the Seahawks, hooked up with Harry
Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and
Smith quickly signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the
middle to his favorite target Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be
playing what could've been his final game.



Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final
timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another
play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the
field goal try.



The Seahawks called time just before the ball was snapped, and
Bryant's kick sailed right of the upright. That turned out to be
nothing more than practice. The next one was right down the
middle as Bryant took off in the other direction, pumping his
fist before he was mobbed by his teammates.



"Our quarterback is a special player," Smith said. "They call
him Matty Ice, but I feel like we've got two Matty Ices. There's
Matty Ice Ryan and Matty Ice Bryant."



The Falcons overcame their reputation for choking in the
playoffs, winning their first postseason game since the 2004
season. They'll host San Francisco in the NFC championship game
next Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.



"Nobody flinched," Ryan said. "We just kept battling, kept doing
what we do. That's been the makeup of our team all season."



Bryant knocked through his third game-winning kick of the
season. But he'd never made one like this, with so much on the
line.



"When they scored their touchdown, I walked down (the
sideline)," he said. "I told the offensive line, I told Matt
(Ryan), I told all the receivers, `We've done this before."'



Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, doing all
he could to pull off the most improbable of comebacks for the
Seahawks (12-6). But the Seattle defense, which is one of the
NFL's best and had totally stymied the Falcons in the fourth
quarter, went to a softer coverage and got burned.



Atlanta had just enough time to pull off a comeback of its own.



"We had high, high hopes for the rest of the season," Wilson
said. "When the game was over, I was very disappointed. But
walking back into the tunnel, I got so excited about next year.
The resilience we showed was unbelievable."



Wilson finished with 385 yards passing as the Seahawks wiped out
a 27-7 deficit entering the final quarter. When Lynch powered
over, the ball breaking the goal line just before it squirted
from his arms, Seattle celebrated like it had won its second
straight playoff game on the road, having already taken care of
Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.



According to STATS, it would've been the greatest fourth-quarter
comeback in NFL playoff history.



Not so fast.



Ryan led the Falcons back, wiping out his 0-3 mark in the
playoffs, including a crushing loss to Green Bay two years ago
when the Falcons were in the same position, the NFC's top-seeded
team with home-field advantage in the playoffs.



"The one thing I've learned during my five years in the league,
and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard," Ryan
said.



Now, he'll no longer be asked why he can't win in the playoffs.



"That's going to be nice," Ryan conceded. "But our goal is not
to win one playoff game. Our goals are still in front of us. We
still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have.
That's the mind-set this team has."



Wilson's last throw, a desperation heave into the end zone, was
intercepted by Falcons receiver Julio Jones.



Gonzalez, who had never won a playoff game in his 16-year
career, broke down in tears after Bryant's kick went through the
uprights.



"I've never cried after a win," said Gonzalez, who has stated
repeatedly that he's "95 percent" sure this is his final year.
"I was thinking, `Here we go again. I guess it wasn't meant to
be."'



It was.



The Falcons finally lived up to their excellence during the
regular season since Smith, Ryan and general manager Thomas
Dimitroff took over in 2008, instantly reviving a franchise that
seemed down and out after Michael Vick's dogfighting case.
Atlanta has won 56 regular-season games over the last five
years, more than any team except New England, but had a
reputation for choking in the postseason.



Check that off the list. Atlanta is one win away from the second
Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.



Ryan threw three touchdown passes, tying a Falcons playoff
record, and finished 24 of 35 for 250 yards - the first time
he's eclipsed 200 yards in the postseason. He threw a 1-yard
touchdown pass to Gonzalez, a 47-yarder to Roddy White and a
5-yarder to Jason Snelling, the latter with 2:11 left in the
third quarter to give the Falcons a seemingly commanding lead.



Wilson took over from there, running 1 yard for a touchdown to
make it 27-14, then going to Zach Miller on a 3-yard touchdown
pass that closed the gap to 27-21.



Finally, taking over at his own 39 after an Atlanta punt, Wilson
completed three passes for 50 yards, the last of them a short
throw to Lynch that the bruising runner took all the way to the
Falcons 3. The rookie quarterback made it all possible, spinning
away from blitzing Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to keep
the play alive.



The Seahawks, though, will spend the offseason kicking
themselves for that last Falcons' drive, and for squandering two
scoring chances in the first half.



On fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 11, Seattle passed on a field
goal and a chance to give the ball to Lynch, their beast of a
back. Fullback Michael Robinson took the handoff and was stuffed
for a 1-yard loss by safety William Moore.



Then, with the clock winding down before halftime, Seattle used
up all its timeouts and wound up regretting it when Wilson was
sacked by Jonathan Babineaux at the Atlanta 20. Time ran out
before the Seahawks could get off another play, sending Atlanta
to the locker room with a 20-0 lead.



Bryant also connected on field goals of 37 and 39 yards in the
first half.



"At halftime, we talked about how we can't get ahead right away.
It's going to take a while," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
"It was an exquisite job of refocusing to a football game after
being down like that."



NOTES: The Falcons played the second half without defensive end
John Abraham, who re-injured his ailing right ankle. No word
whether he'll be able to play next week. ... The Falcons did a
good job on Lynch, who was held to 46 yards on 16 carries. ...
Atlanta got surprising production out of its maligned running
game. Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards, Jacquizz Rodgers added
64 and the Falcons finished with a season-high 167 yards
overall.



---



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---



Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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