Falcons' Matt Ryan changes playoff fortunes

ASSOCIATED PRESS Falcons' Julio Jones intercepts 'Hail Mary' pass thrown by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on final play of game.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Falcons' Julio Jones intercepts 'Hail Mary' pass thrown by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on final play of game.
Posted: January 14, 2013

ATLANTA - Sometimes, one game can change everything or it can change nothing.

For Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Sunday's dramatic 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks has forever put an end to The Question.

The what's-it-like-to-have-never-won-a-playoff-game question.

Now, people can move on to more weighty questions, like, "Hey, Matt, what's it like to have never won a Super Bowl?" And maybe that one is headed for the trash bin soon as well.

For Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, only time will tell whether Sunday's loss, in which his unit gave up 417 yards and 24 first downs and allowed Ryan to complete two late passes that set up Matt Bryant's game-winning 49-yard field goal, had any impact on his chances of becoming the Eagles' next head coach.

It shouldn't, but you never know. Remember what happened to the last guy in Philly who blew a couple of fourth-quarter leads?

Ryan has had an outstanding season, throwing for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdown passes and finishing with a league-best .686 completion percentage.

But if the Falcons, who lost just three games this season and entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, had lost Sunday, those impressive regular-season numbers would have meant nothing.

The Falcons had made three previous trips to the playoffs since selecting Ryan with the third overall pick in the 2008 draft, and lost their first game each time, including an ugly 24-2 defeat to the Giants 2 years ago when the Falcons also were the top seed.

Ryan came into Sunday's game with a 71.2 postseason passer rating. He had failed to throw for 200 yards in any of those three losses.

The word was Matty Ice melted when the temperature rose in the playoffs.

But Sunday changed that. Ryan completed 24 of 35 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns against Bradley's defense, which had given up just 15 touchdown passes all season and was ranked sixth in the league against the pass. The Seahawks were the top-ranked scoring defense in the league.

Ryan completed 12 of 18 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Falcons built a 20-0 lead. He opened the second half by completing eight of his first 10 passes, disappeared for three possessions as the Seahawks climbed back into the game and took the lead with 31 seconds left, then went into Matty Ice mode and connected on two huge passes to slot receiver Harry Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez that set up Bryant's game-winning field goal with 8 seconds left.

"That's part of playing in this league," Ryan said of his late-game heroics. "Each game every week seems to come down to the wire. And you need to be able to make those plays to win football games. We've done it a bunch of times and did it again today."

The Seahawks took the lead, 28-27, with a half-minute left on a 2-yard run by Marshawn Lynch that was preceded by a 24-yard catch-and-run by Lynch on a third-and-5 play.

A 34-yard kickoff return by Jacquizz Rodgers gave the Falcons a first down at their own 28 with 25 seconds and two timeouts left.

On the first play, Ryan found Douglas on a deep sideline route for a 22-yard gain, but the slot receiver wasn't able to get out of bounds, and the Falcons had to use the first of their remaining two timeouts.

On the next play, Ryan leaned on the 36-year-old Gonzalez, hitting the future Hall-of-Famer for a 19-yard completion in the middle of the field at the Seattle 31 with just 13 seconds left.

Falcons coach Mike Smith used his final timeout. He could have gambled and had Ryan throw a quick sideline route to shorten the distance for Bryant. But too many things could have gone wrong. So he sent Bryant out to try a 49-yarder, which ended up being dead-solid perfect.

"I feel like we have two Matty Ices on this team," Smith said. "We've got Matty Ice Ryan and Matty Ice Bryant."

The Falcons' offensive line dominated Bradley's front seven the entire game. Ryan wasn't sacked a single time and the Falcons rushed for 167 yards, including 98 by hard-charging Michael Turner.

On Ryan's completion to Gonzalez that set up Bryant's game-winner, the Seahawks blitzed. But the line gave its quarterback the time to make an accurate throw.

"They did a great job the entire day," Ryan said. "That's a good defensive front seven. And they added an eighth guy in the box on almost every snap.

"But our line stood up to the best. We ran the ball as well as we have all year. And I really didn't get touched in the passing game."

Ryan, who had thrown just one interception in the final five regular-season games, had two Sunday. He threw one in the first quarter that was picked off by linebacker Bobby Wagner when the Seahawks threw him a coverage curve. He threw another one in the fourth quarter, after the Seahawks had made it a 27-14 game, that Seattle used to set up another scoring drive and make it a six-point game.

Atlanta's defense struggled to deal with the Seahawks' scrambling rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson. Wilson threw for 385 yards - a playoff record for a rookie - and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

"That [second interception] was just a bad play on my part," Ryan said. "That's something I can't do. Luckily, we made enough plays after that to come out with the win."

They made enough plays to allow the Falcons to advance to their first conference title game since their loss to the Eagles 8 years ago.

And they made enough plays to put an end to The Question.

"It'll be nice," Ryan said of never again having to be asked about not winning a playoff game. "But at the same time, our goal is not to win one playoff game. It's not to stop answering that question.

"Our goal is still in front of us. And we still have two more games to go. That's the mindset I have, and it's the mindset the team has."

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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