It happened before our very eyes, and then it was undone. After going up 20-0 in the 1st half of Sunday’s showdown against the Seattle Seahawks, the Atlanta Falcons blew their comfortable lead and allowed Russell Wilson to lead a go-ahead drive that culminated in a Marshawn Lynch touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. The Falcons were about to be proud owners of a biggest lead given up in the 4th quarter in NFL playoff history record, but Matty Ice had other ideas.
Heading into those final 31 seconds, the Falcons were fulfilling every negative prophecy that had been made about them beforehand. For a 13-3 team, they weren’t getting much respect heading into Sunday’s game, and it was all about whether they could come up big when it mattered most.
The Falcons got rolling in the first half as they moved up and down the field and didn’t allow Seattle to get anything going. Atlanta was in position to give Seattle their finisher, but then the premonitions began to come true. The Falcons could have used a long drive to ice the game, but instead of a scoring drive they committed a turnover. Atlanta made offensive and defensive mistakes, and the Seahawks were more than willing to take advantage of every one.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons had a reputation for coming up short in playoff games, and they nearly one-upped themselves. After a regular season was somehow focused on their playoff woes, the Falcons just about did it again. Matt Ryan threw two costly interceptions and fail to lead a 2nd half scoring drive to put them in poor position, but then he got them out of it.
It’s funny how a short number of seconds can change someone’s career. Ryan may have been anointed the least clutch quarterback in the NFL playoffs had his team fallen short, but instead he ended up being the hero that carried Atlanta into the next round.
In 31 seconds, Ryan went from all-time choke artist to “elite,” as some are saying he accomplished on Sunday.
Above all else, Matt Ryan showed the fine line between wretchedness and brilliance with his performance last weekend. On one hand, the playoff monkey had been draped over his back and he triumphantly threw it off with an astounding drive to win the game. On the other, the Falcons blew a lead they should have never blown, and if not for several coaching gaffes by Pete Carroll they wouldn’t even be in position to kick a game-winning field goal.
The Falcons continued their trend of disturbingly close wins, and the almost-squandered lead is certainly a concern. The importance of this game to this team can’t be understated, though, and we can’t forget how much pressure the world had placed on Matt Ryan’s shoulders. It wasn’t pretty, but Ryan won. Now it’s time to see if the Falcons just feel lucky to be there, or if they can take care of business.