ATLANTA — Pete Carroll called the game “extraordinary” and his Seahawks’ comeback “exquisite.” Then, the coach called his rookie quarterback “unbelievable.”
Russell Wilson did everything he could to deliver Seattle another comeback win in the playoffs.
Wilson led the Seahawks to three fourth-quarter touchdowns only to see Atlanta’s Matt Bryant kick a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining to give the Falcons a 30-28 NFC divisional playoff win over Seattle on Sunday.
“(Wilson) put us in position to be in another game next week, but we couldn’t finish it,” Carroll said.
“That’s just an amazing football team we have. … It’s a really good team and we’re just getting started.”
The unflappable Wilson is the biggest reason for Carroll’s optimism about the Seahawks’ future.
The Falcons led 27-7 at the start of the final quarter before Wilson began Seattle’s comeback. Wilson had a 1-yard touchdown run, passed to tight end Zach Miller for a 2-yard score and then led a go-ahead touchdown drive that was capped by Marshawn Lynch’s 2-yard run with only 31 seconds remaining.
“I love it when games are on the line,” Wilson said. “I love it when games are a little bit tight. When others are nervous, that’s when I love to play.”
There was ample reason for nerves on each sideline in the wild final quarter.
Wilson watched but didn’t panic as Atlanta’s Matt Ryan completed passes to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez to set up Bryant’s game-winning kick.
Wilson was left with 8 seconds.
“When we had the ball I knew we were going to win,” Wilson said. “I knew we were going to score. Obviously it didn’t work out.”
Following a squib kickoff by Bryant, Wilson completed a short pass to Doug Baldwin to the Falcons 46.
“We called the route to see if we could get it down and get a shot at the field goal,” Carroll said. “That wasn’t there so we threw it underneath.
That left Wilson only 2 seconds for one final desperation toss. The game ended with Falcons receiver Julio Jones, playing deep in the prevent defense, intercepting Wilson’s pass in the end zone.
It was the only interception for Wilson, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson also had seven carries for 60 yards and a touchdown.
“I think he’s an amazing football player,” Carroll said. “I think he proved it yet again. It’s undeniable.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith, who last week compared Wilson to Fran Tarkenton, said the rookie “did a great job extending plays.”
“We knew going into it, it was going to be tough for us. … I believe there were 145 snaps in 17 games that he extended plays when I watched the entire season. We knew we had our hands full. He’s an outstanding quarterback.”
The loss ended a six-game winning streak for the Seahawks (12-6).
Miller had eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. Golden Tate had six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Lynch was held to 46 yards rushing on 16 carries.
The Falcons claimed a surprising 167-123 edge in yards rushing as Michael Turner had 14 carries for 98 yards and Jacquizz Rodgers added 10 carries for 64 yards.
“We tackled so poorly against both guys,” Carroll said. “(Turner) kept blasting through us and then Jacquizz did the same thing.”
The Seahawks trailed 14-0 before rallying in last week’s 24-14 victory over Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in the opening round of the playoffs.
Wilson and the Seahawks narrowly missed joining the 1989 Los Angeles Rams as the only West Coast teams to win two postseason games at East Coast sites in the same year.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing,” Wilson said. “We had high, high hopes for the rest of the season.
“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.”
The loss also left the Seahawks to bemoan two lost scoring opportunities deep in Atlanta territory earlier in the game.
Wilson completed a 34-yard pass to Miller and added a 16-yard pass to Golden Tate to push the Seahawks deep into Atlanta territory in the second quarter. Robert Turbin was stopped on third-and-1 from the Falcons 11. On fourth down, Wilson handed to fullback Michael Robinson, who was dropped by Charles Mitchell for a 1-yard loss.
The Seahawks were stopped again as the first half ended after Wilson moved the Seahawks to a first down at the Atlanta 6. Wilson threw incomplete passes to Sidney Rice and Tate as Seattle used all its timeouts. On third down from the 11, Wilson was sacked by Jonathan Babineaux and time expired before the rookie quarterback could attempt a fourth-down pass.
Those failed chances left the Seahawks down 20-0.
“Nobody gave up. Nobody panicked,” said rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin, who made his first start, replacing sacks leader Chris Clemons, who was injured his left knee last week.
“We knew we were going to make a run. We just kind of waited too late. We dug deep. (Atlanta) was executing a lot in the first three quarters. In the fourth, we stood up and played for each other and dug deep and got off the field.”