The Hail Mary didn’t work out this time.
Julio Jones picked off Russell Wilson’s last-ditch effort as time expired in Atlanta and the Falcons advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a 30-28 win that extended our string of outstanding football games this weekend to three. The Falcons grabbed the lead with eight seconds to play on a 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant, but had to survive the Hail Mary attempt because the ensuing kickoff caromed off the front line of the Seahawks kick return team and the visitors recovered near midfield. Wilson had plenty of magic on Sunday, but it ran out on the final play.
Wilson led the Seahawks back from 27-7 down entering the fourth quarter and was excellent in the second half after the Seahawks were shut out in the first 30 minutes. Wilson helped put the Seahawks in front by spinning away from Sean Weatherspoon and hitting Marshawn Lynch for 23 yards on third down with 44 seconds remaining to set up a Lynch touchdown that gave Seattle its first lead of the day. Wilson finished with 385 passing yards, 60 rushing yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. The ride ends here, but we’ve got a lot of Wilson to come in the future.
Matt Ryan, who helped the Seahawks comeback with a terrible interception early in the fourth, hit Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez to move into position for Bryant’s field goal. Pete Carroll did the time-honored icing the kicker bit and it wound up biting him as Bryant missed on the first try before splitting the uprights with his second try. The Falcons did their best to extend the narrative that they just can’t win in January during most of the fourth quarter, but they were able to flip the script just before the final whistle.
Their work along the line of scrimmage on both sides deserves much credit for getting them there. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 162 yards on the ground, the kind of balance that they’ll need to beat the 49ers, and they did a good job of keeping Lynch in check while also forcing a fumble in the first quarter. Ryan made two big throws when he had to do it, getting the never wins in the playoffs monkey off his back and getting Gonzalez the first playoff win of his career in the process.
Gonzalez and Ryan will look for number two next weekend in a game that we hope is just as entertaining as the three we’ve already seen this weekend.