NFL Playoffs: Falcons trump Seattle's rally
ATLANTA - Tony Gonzalez said he has cried after losses before but never after a victory.
He could not stop the tears Sunday afternoon, though, as the future Hall of Fame tight end in his 16th - and what he says will be final - season helped engineer an improbable comeback on a wild divisional-round playoff weekend.
Gonzalez's 19-yard reception with 13 seconds remaining set up Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal that lifted the Falcons to a 30-28 victory over the Seahawks at the Georgia Dome and propelled them into the NFC championship game here Sunday against the 49ers.
"I still can't get over it because at the end of the game, I promise you I thought, 'Well, here we go again, I guess it wasn't meant for us to get a playoff victory,'"Gonzalez said. "Especially for me individually. I guess it was never going to happen. What a roller coaster of emotions. I'm spent right now."
Gonzalez's first playoff victory came in dramatic fashion after it looked like this venture into the postseason would end with the kind of heartache that has defined the playoffs in his career. The top-seeded Falcons led 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 at the start of the fourth quarter only to watch electric Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson stun them.
The Seahawks took a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds remaining on Marshawn Lynch's 2-yard touchdown run as Wilson was unstoppable in completing 24 of 36 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 60 yards. In the fourth quarter, Wilson scored on a 1-yard run and tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller, who caught eight passes for 142 yards.
The only mistake the Seahawks made was leaving Matt Ryan with too much time - 20 more seconds than he had as a rookie in 2008 when he engineered a similar comeback against the Bears.
"It is pretty similar," Ryan said. "I think we had less time in terms of that drive. That is part of playing in this league. You need to make plays."
Making plays in the regular season never has been an issue for Ryan, whose 56 victories since the '08 season is the most among NFL quarterbacks. At long last, he has his first in the postseason. He was solid in throwing for 250 yards on 24 of 35 passing with three touchdowns. But Ryan aided Seattle's furious comeback by floating an easy interception to Seahawks safety Earl Thomas early in the fourth quarter.
Trailing with 25 seconds remaining on his own 28 after a 34-yard kickoff return by Rodgers, Ryan hit Harry Douglas on a 22-yard out, almost the same play he used against the Bears in '08. Then he found Gonzalez over the middle on the next play to set up Bryant's winner.
"The one thing I have learned in my five years is that it's hard, it is difficult to do," Ryan said. "We knew coming into it this week it was going to take 60 minutes of our best football to come out with a win."
It was the 22nd fourth-quarter comeback in Ryan's career and sixth this season - but first in the playoffs.
"It's nice to not have to answer that question anymore," Ryan said about being winless in the postseason. "But we still have some work to do."
The Falcons' Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries and Jacquizz Rodgers had 64 yards on 10 rushes.
It ended a storybook season for Wilson, who had guided his team to six straight victories. The Seahawks came back from a 14-0 deficit to win a week ago against the Redskins in Washington and in Week 16 of the regular season they throttled the 49ers, making some believe they were destined for the Super Bowl. Given a final play from midfield, Wilson was intercepted in the end zone by Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who was playing safety.
"The resilient attitude that we showed ... it was a great game," Wilson said. "That's what the playoffs are all about."