By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
ATLANTA — An hour after the Seattle Seahawks painful, 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the final seconds on a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal, Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant still seethed.
“This is going to make us tough,” Bryant said. “It’s going to make us hungry. We’ll be looking forward to next year, and we’ll come out the gate swinging. We know what type of team we are, and we know what it takes to win.
“So we’ve got to swallow this one, and hopefully we’ll be back next year. And be able to go farther.”
The road loss in the NFC divisional playoff game spoiled Seattle’s chances of a rubber match with NFC West rival San Francisco in the NFC title game.
Instead, the Falcons will host the Niners on Sunday for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Matt Bryant’s late-game theatrics overshadowed another masterful performance by Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who rallied his team just like he’s done all season. The Seahawks fell behind for a second straight week, this time trailing 20-0 at halftime — the team’s largest deficit of the season.
But Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said there was no panic from his players at halftime.
“I can’t imagine that anybody expected that we were going to have a chance to get back into that game, except for the guys in that locker room,” he said. “And they knew we were going to have a chance to get back into that game. They felt it the whole time.”
Wilson passed for 250 of his career-high 385 yards in the second half, leading the Seahawks on touchdown scoring drives of 80, 80, 62 and 61 yards.
Wilson finished 24-of-36 for 385 yards, two touchdowns and one meaningless interception at the end of the game on a Hail Mary pass — surpassing the franchise record for passing yards in a postseason game.
Wilson’s mark eclipses Matt Hasselbeck’s 341-yard passing performance against St. Louis on Jan. 8, 2005.
Wilson engineered the go-ahead drive with three minutes remaining and Seattle down 27-21. The Seahawks started on Atlanta’s 38-yard line, and in four quick plays, he had Seattle in scoring position.
Marshawn Lynch’s 2-yard touchdown run, followed by a Ryan Longwell extra point, gave the Seahawks a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds to play in the game.
But as Seattle’s had done against Arizona, Detroit and Miami in the fourth quarter during the regular season, the defense couldn’t make it stand.
The Falcons got a big return from Jacquizz Rodgers out to the 28-yard line. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan connected with receiver Harry Douglas for a 22-yard gain on a sideline route, putting Atlanta at midfield.
And on the next play, Ryan found tight end Tony Gonzalez down the middle for 19 yards, putting the Falcons in field goal range at Seattle’s 31-yard line.
A Seattle timeout by Carroll to ice the kicker had no affect, as Matt Bryant drilled the game winner with 13 seconds left, giving Mike Smith his first playoff win as a head coach to snap an 0-for-3 losing streak.
“I think everyone in this locker room felt the pressure and to not play our best in the third and fourth quarter and come back and win is something, it was huge,” Atlanta center Todd McClure said. “If anyone in here tells you any different they’re lying — the quarterback and head coach had to be feeling it the most.”
The Falcons advanced to the NFC championship for just the third time in that franchise’s history. And Ryan earned his first playoff win in five seasons.
Ryan finished 24-of-35 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Seahawks did a decent job of limiting Atlanta’s three playmakers in tight end Tony Gonzalez (6 catches for 51 yards), and receivers Julio Jones (6 receptions for 59 yards) and Roddy White (5-for-76, including a 47-yard touchdown catch).
However, the Falcons surprisingly leaned on the running game, totaling 167 yards on the ground — the most rushing yards Seattle allowed since a 24-21 loss in Week 12 at Miami (189 rushing yards).
Michael Turner finished with 98 yards on 14 carries, and Jacquizz Rodgers totaled 64 yards on 10 carries.
“We tackled so poorly against both guys,” Carroll said. “We had a whole thought of getting underneath him (Turner) because he’s such a monster of a body — you’ve got to tackle him low and get him at the legs. And he kept blasting through us. And Jacquizz did the same thing a couple times.”