NFL play-offs: Matt Bryant field goal helps Atlanta Falcons beat Seattle Seahawks
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 14/01/13 7:43am
The Atlanta Falcons survived a huge comeback by the Seattle Seahawks to win 30-28 on a last-minute field-goal to scrape through to the NFC Championship game against San Francisco.
The Falcons finished as the NFC top seeds but a poor recent run in the post-season, including a 0-3 record for quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith meant they were still not classed as Super Bowl contenders.
Atlanta powered to a 20-0 half-time lead and were coasting at 27-7 going into the fourth quarter before Russell Wilson led a superb Seahawks comeback with three TDs putting them 28-27 ahead with just 31 seconds left on the clock.
Ryan's dream looked like dying again, but he showed huge nerve to connect on two huge completions to set-up a 49-yard kick for Matt Bryant, who slotted it at the second attempt after a Seattle timeout to send the Georgia Dome wild as they finally ended their play-off drought.
Matt Bryant kicks the winning field goal
After the Falcons settled for a Bryant field goal on their first possession, Ryan committed a turnover when his errant pass was picked off by Bobby Wagner, but Seattle coughed the ball up just three plays later though to hand it right back as Marshawn Lynch fumbled on a run and Jason Babineaux dived on the ball.
The Falcons took full advantage of the good field position by marching down the field before Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez with a one-yard pass and the veteran showed superb balance to keep his balance at the back of the end zone.
A 37-yard field-goal from Bryant put Atlanta 13 points in front, and it got even better for the home side as the defence stood up to thwart Pete Carroll's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one instead of kicking the field-goal to turn the ball over on downs.
Ryan responded again to the turnover as he hit Roddy White with a 47-yard strike as he got the better of Richard Sherman in a bruising battle they had all day - and White was quick to have let his opponent know what he thought of the score after taking the diving catch.
The Seahawks messed up their chance to score right at the end of the half, but Wilson responded well on the opening drive of the second with 29-yard TD throw to Golden Tate as they finally breached Atlanta's defence to get back into the game.
Ryan marched his team 80 yards and took a welcome seven-and-a-half minutes off the clock with the very next drive which finished with an inside flick to Jason Snelling from five yards out to restore the 20-point lead at 27-7.
Wilson picked his team up in the fourth quarter though, running in a one-yard score himself before hitting Zach Miller with a three-yard score and making some superb scrambling throws to enable Lynch to put them ahead inside the final minute.
The Falcons had blown it, again, but 'Matty Ice' Ryan stayed amazingly composed to throw completions of 22 and 19 yards to Harry Douglas and Gonzalez to set up Bryant, who missed with his first effort after Carroll had called a timeout, but drilled his next straight through the uprights.
Still, the suffering Falcons faithful had to sit through an agonising few minutes as a bizarre squib kick attempt fell well short and gave Wilson one last chance to be a hero, but his Hail Mary was plucked out of the end zone by Julio Jones and Atlanta secured a third appearance in the NFC title game.
Ryan finished with 250 yards, three TDs and two interceptions along with a whole new gang of admirers after his fourth quarter play in the final throws of another pulsating play-off game.
Seattle's rookie QB Wilson may have lost, but he capped a superb season with an amazing play-off run, and he really put his team on his shoulders in Atlanta with a team record 385 yards passing and two TD throws to go along with a score of his own and 60 yards on the ground as the team's leading rusher.
While Lynch was far less effective than in recent games, Seattle showed they can play in the passing game as well with tight end Miller and receiver Tate both catching touchdown passes and going over 100 yards receiving.