Falcons, Patriots earn berth in conference title gamesPublished 2:02am Monday, January 14, 2013
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons called on a pair of Matty Ices to turn back the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history.
After the top-seeded Falcons squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan completed two long passes and Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds to give Atlanta a stunning 30-28 victory over Russell Wilson and the gutty Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday.
The Falcons (14-3) overcame their reputation for choking in the playoffs, winning their first postseason game since 2004. They’ll host San Francisco in the NFC championship game next Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, doing all he could to make the Seahawks (12-6) the first playoff team ever to rally from such a daunting deficit in the final period. Marshawn Lynch appeared to have locked it up for Seattle when he scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left for a 28-27 lead.
But the Seahawks’ defense, which is one of the NFL’s best and had totally stymied the Falcons in the fourth, went to a softer coverage and got burned. The Falcons had just enough time to pull off a comeback of their own.
Ryan, shaking off the struggles in his first three playoff appearances, hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and coach Mike Smith quickly signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the middle to his favorite target, tight end Tony Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could’ve been his final game.
Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the field goal try.
The Seahawks called time just before the ball was snapped, and Bryant’s kick sailed right of the upright. That turned out to be nothing more than practice. The next one was right down the middle, giving the Falcons a stunning victory.
Patriots 31, Texans 13
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, Shane Vereen scored twice and the New England Patriots overcame a 94-yard return by Danieal Manning on the opening kickoff to take a 31-13 lead over the Houston Texans after three quarters of their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday.
Shayne Graham kicked a 55-yard field goal on the final play of the first half after a short punt by Zoltan Mesko gave the Texans the ball at their 38-yard line. That cut the lead to 17-13.
But the Patriots (12-4) scored on two of their three series in the third quarter on an 8-yard run by Stevan Ridley and a 5-yard pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd.
The Patriots got little help from running back Danny Woodhead and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left with injuries.
Woodhead hurt his thumb after carrying the ball on the Patriots’ first offensive play and Gronkowski went to the locker room with an arm injury midway through the period. Gronkowski was playing his second game since breaking his left forearm
After the Patriots took a 24-13 lead with Ridley’s touchdown, both teams punted before the Texans (13-4) started a drive at their 10-yard line. They moved to the New England 37 with the help of a 22-yard completion from Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson. But five plays later, Rob Ninkovich jumped and intercepted a pass over the middle intended for James Casey.
That gave the Patriots the ball at their 37 and they needed just six plays to score on Lloyd’s touchdown in the first playoff game of his 10-year career.
Vereen had scored on a 1-yard run with 1:28 left in the first quarter after Graham opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal.