Falcons Ride Nail-Biting Frenzy Into NFC Championship Game

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    And the beat goes on.

    For the Atlanta Falcons, the title of this 1967 Billboard Top 10 hit song, written by Sonny Bono, is far removed from this team’s memory, with the average age of the active roster reportedly being somewhere around 26.

    These young players, for the most part, probably have never heard of the song – let alone its composer – but the title is a perfect description of how the 2012-13 season has gone for Atlanta’s newest playoff victors.

    Following a 30-28 last-ditch, come-from-behind win over the Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons advanced to the NFC Championship next Sunday and will play the San Francisco 49ers. But that was not before blowing a sizable lead. But the win finally broke Atlanta’s playoff misfortune by giving them their first post-season win since 2004, leading to only the team’s third divisional championship game.

    It seems the Falcons wouldn’t have been themselves if they had not taken their fans to the brink of cardiac arrest – or at least a nail-biting frenzy – in their latest contest which was determined in the final half minute.

    After posting a 13-3 record this season in which five games were determined by a margin of four points or less, including losses to New Orleans and Carolina, and a total of eight games won by eight points or less – the Falcons again upheld their season-long tradition of their patented “down-to-the-wire” playing style.

    Despite being outplayed statistically by the Seahawks for much of the second half, Atlanta actually held a 27-7 lead going into the final period. But Seattle launched the game’s first comeback when rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another to lead his team to a 28-27 takeover with just 31 second left to play.

    Enter “Matty Ice.”

    Under the leadership of fifth-year signal caller Matt Ryan, the Falcons continued to do what they do best. With the clock as his biggest nemesis, Ryan threw two quick completions with precision that moved the chains from the initial first-and-10 on Atlanta’s own 28-yard line to the Seahawks’ 31 with 13 seconds remaining to play. His second pass to Tony Gonzalez over the middle followed a 22-yard strike to Harry Douglas at midfield and put the ball virtually in the center of the field which gave kicker Matt Bryant a straight-on view of the goal posts.

    And like he’s done all season, Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal to help Atlanta retain the lead with just seconds remaining on the clock. The kick was Bryant’s second longest game-winning field goal as a member of the Falcons, bringing his game-winning field goal total to six since joining the club in 2009. Bryant’s kicks have won three games this season alone.

    Ryan, at the helm of the offense, has led the Falcons in 22 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his five seasons, including six games this season.

    Ryan, who also set franchise records this season for completions, attempts and passing yards, finished the game by completing 24-of-35 passes for 250 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

    Defensively, the Falcons did exactly what they set out to do – shutdown the Seahawks’ running game and Marshawn Lynch. Lynch, who rushed for 26 touchdown this season and caught another 10 passes for scores, was the focus of Coach Mike Smith’s week-long preparations. Despite his one touchdown, Lynch was held to 46 yards rushing.

    “Our number one must this week was to stop the run…try to make sure that #24 [Lynch] didn’t get going,” Coach Smith said of Lynch.

    However, despite being aware of Wilson’s running abilities, the Falcons didn’t do much to counteract the first-year playmaker, nor his throwing abilities. Wilson threw seven passes of at least 20 yards, and three other short hits that his receivers ran for more than 20. He finished with 386 yards on 36 passes.

    “We knew that No. 3 [Wilson] was going to have an opportunity to scramble with the football. We didn’t do as well as we’d have liked in that. Of course, we gave up way too many pass yards,” Smith continued.

    But when all was said and done, the Falcons pulled off another miraculous victory. And when an emotional Gonzalez realized after the game-winning field goal and the final tick of the clock that he had finally gained his first playoff victory in 16 years in the league, he said it all: “I was on the ground sobbing like a baby.”

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