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 playoff win on Sunday.
The Falcons blew a 20-point second-half lead, but managed to hold off upstart Seattle and advance to the National Conference championship game.
“I never cried after a win before,” Falcons veteran receiver Tony Gonzalez said. “For us to come back the way we did. I am so proud of our guys. We knew they would make a run.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan tossed three touchdown passes en route to his first playoff victory for the Falcons, who had lost their last four playoff 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 on Sunday in the NFC championship game with a Super Bowl berth on the line. The 49ers advanced on Saturday with a win over Green Bay.
In the late game on Sunday, 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 on Saturday.
The conference champions will meet in the Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
The 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 playoffs 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 on Sunday, but his sensational season ended with Bryant’s field goal.
Wilson finished 24-of-36 for a playoff 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 playoff quarter-final games.
Atlanta’s defense held Seattle scoreless in the first half, while the Falcons offense 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.
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.
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.
However, Ryan had come up empty in each of his three playoff appearances since then.
Ryan had a superb regular season in which he threw for a team-record 4,719 yards with 32 touchdown passes.