Atlanta, Georgia: Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with eight seconds left as the Atlanta Falcons thwarted a fourth-quarter surge by Seattle for a 30-28 second-round NFL play-off victory yesterday.
The Falcons blew a 20-point second-half lead but managed to hold off upstarts Seattle and advance to the National Conference championship game.
“We knew coming into it, it was going to be tough. That’s a very good defence,” Ryan said of Seattle. “Luckily we made enough plays to come out with the win.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan tossed three touchdown passes en route to his first play-off victory for the Falcons, who had lost their last four post-season contests.
Running back Michael Turner carried the ball 14 times for 98 yards and fifth-year Falcons quarterback Ryan completed 24 of 35 passes for 250 yards.
Atlanta, who are the No.1 seed in the NFC, will host the San Francisco 49ers in the first of two games next Sunday with a Super Bowl berth on the line. The 49ers advanced on Saturday with a win over Green Bay.
In Sunday’s late game, the New England Patriots advanced to the American Conference championship game with a 41-28 victory over Houston. The Patriots will next face the Baltimore Ravens, who edged Denver 38-35 in double overtime.
The conference champions will meet in the Super Bowl in New Orleans on February 3.
Sunday’s win could prove to be costly for the Patriots, who fear they may be without star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the play-offs after he left the game in the first quarter with an arm injury.
Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson looked poised to continue his Cinderella run but his sensational season ended with Bryant’s field goal.
Wilson finished 24-of-36 for a play-off team record 385 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. Wilson also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown. The defeat snapped Seattle’s six-game winning streak.
Marshawn Lynch finished with 46 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries for the Seahawks, who have lost their last four NFL play-off quarter-final games.
Atlanta’s defence held Seattle scoreless in the first half while the Falcons offence built a 20-0 lead thanks to a pair of touchdown passes from Ryan and two Bryant field goals.
Wilson engineered Seattle’s rally, leading the Seahawks to three scoring drives on their first three possessions of the second half.
“I can’t imagine anybody expected that we were going to have a chance to get back in the game, except for the guys in that locker room,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “They felt it the whole time.”
Lynch busted through for a two-yard touchdown to put the Seahawks ahead, 28-27, with 31 seconds left in the fourth.
That set the stage for Bryant’s game-winning field goal.
“I never cried after a win before,” said Falcons veteran receiver Tony Gonzalez. “For us to come back the way we did. I am so proud of our guys. We knew they would make a run.”
The last time the Falcons advanced to the penultimate round was in 2004, when Jim Mora was the head coach and Michael Vick was the quarterback.
Ryan took over as the face of the franchise four years ago after disgraced quarterback Vick went to prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring.
Tom Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns en route to his 17th career play-off win as a starting quarterback, moving him past Joe Montana into first place on the league’s all-time list.
Brady completed 25-of-40 passes without an interception in the win over the Texans at Gillette Stadium.
“He’s our leader, and we all follow him,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “He led the team today along with a lot of other guys, but he certainly did his part. No quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady.”
Shane Vereen caught two of Brady’s touchdown passes while also adding a rushing touchdown to get New England back in the AFC title game.
The Patriots edged the Ravens 23-20 in a thriller in last year’s contest.