Last offseason, I wrote a series of Throwback Thursday articles looking back at some of the most memorable moments in Atlanta Falcons history. That series culminated with an article looking back at the time newly minted general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall pick. Here’s how that specific article concluded:
As you may or may not have noticed, there wasn’t a single one of these articles which was dedicated to any moment in the Matt Ryan era; that was by design. In this upcoming offseason, I hope to write a series of “Matty Ice Moments” articles, which look back on nothing but moments in the Matt Ryan era.
Well, that time has come — welcome to the “Matty Ice Moments” series. This will be a series of articles dedicated to looking back on Matt Ryan-centric moments, in an attempt to help distract us from the dead period a little bit.
And if you don’t like Matt Ryan and think that we’re focusing on him too much this offseason, then that’s just too bad, I guess.
You can find last week’s article in this series, looking back on Ryan breaking multiple franchise records in 2012, here.
Matt Ryan wins his first ever playoff game
An NFL playoff game is a pressure cooker for any starting quarterback. When that QB is 0-3 in his postseason career and has been given the label of choker, however, the pressure intensifies to a near breaking point.
The Atlanta Falcons had a regular season to remember in 2012, going 13-3 and securing the top seed in the NFC for the second time in three seasons.
As the NFC’s top seed, the Falcons bypassed the Wild Card round and played host in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Their opponent was an upstart Seattle Seahawks team, which had just travelled to Landover, Maryland and beaten phenom rookie QB Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round.
the Seahawks were led by their own rookie phenom QB in Russell Wilson, who game-managed a spectacular young team to an 11-5 record. Wilson was selected to the Pro Bowl for his solid season, in which he recorded a TD/INT ratio of 26 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
Behind First-Team All-Pro selection Marshawn Lynch and his 1,590 rushing yards along with 11 rushing TDs, Seattle possessed the third-best rushing attack in the NFL, statistically.
Make no mistake about it, though, the defense was the heartbeat of that very impressive Seahawks team. They were the number one scoring defense in the league, allowing a minuscule 15.3 points per game, and the number four total defense in yardage allowed. They were also the best team in turnover difference, with a +15 mark.
It was a defensive unit which got stronger at each level of play — the defensive line was solid and led by Chris Clemons, who recorded 11.5 sacks; the linebackers were even better, led by the prolific duo of Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright; the secondary was easily the best in the league.
This was the original “Legion of Boom,” with the likes of Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas manning the back end — the latter two were both First-Team All-Pro selections at cornerback and free safety. Sherman led the league with 24 passes defensed, and added eight interceptions to solidify his status as a playmaker.
Seattle had won their last five regular season games to get into the playoffs, including a three-week stretch between weeks 14 and 16 where they won games by the scoreline of 58-0, 50-17, and 42-13.
They were looking to play spoiler at the Georgia Dome on January 13, 2013, nearly two years after Aaron Rodgers had marched into Atlanta and completely dismantled another 13-3 Falcons team.
This Falcons team felt different, however. For one, they possessed the fifth-best scoring defense in the league. On offense, it wasn’t just the Roddy White show at receiver, like it was in 2010 — second-year man Julio Jones was living up to the lofty expectations placed on him with that draft day trade. Matt Ryan had also grown into a much better QB than he was two years prior, as well.
The game couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for Atlanta, as two of the team’s first three drives resulted in points — a Matt Bryant field goal and a Tony Gonzalez touchdown catch — while the defense didn’t even allow Seattle to get past half field. Sean Weatherspoon forced the ball out of Lynch’s hands and Jonathan Babineaux recovered the fumble for Atlanta right as Seattle got to half field, on their second drive.
With Atlanta’s defense looking better than it had at any point during the season, forcing three punts and a turnover on the Seahawks’ first four drives, the offense went into overdrive. Jacquizz Rodgers trucked Thomas on a 45-yard rush to help set up a second Bryant field goal. One offensive drive later, Ryan took his deep shot and connected with Roddy White on a 47-yard touchdown to give his team a 20-0 lead.
White taunted Sherman afterward, following the exchange of trash talk the two had leading up to this game.
Seattle answered with a 13-play drive, but the clock ran out on them to end the half, as Babineaux sacked Wilson on the period’s final play, in Atlanta’s red zone. The Falcons possessed a 20-0 lead at the half. The offense had made a mockery of the league’s best scoring defense, and the defense had preserved a first-half shutout.
It really should have been smooth sailing to a blowout win at this point, but that just wasn’t in the DNA of a Mike Smith-led Falcons team.
Full credit to the young Seattle team that put the pressure on Atlanta, coming out of the half, and didn’t just lay down when things weren’t going their way in a road playoff game.
Wilson finally broke through on the first drive of the second half, with a nine-play drive which culminated in a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. Ryan, however, answered with a methodical 14-play touchdown drive of his own to put the hosts up 27-7. From there it was all Seattle.
Wilson was on point, with two more touchdown-scoring drives in his next two offensive possessions, with a Ryan interception sandwiched in between. All of a sudden, Atlanta was up by only six, 27-21, with more than nine minutes left to play, and you could feel the anxiety within the Georgia Dome.
Seattle’s defense had finally reverted to their dominant regular season form, not allowing the Falcons’ offense to even get close to midfield for three straight possessions following that long touchdown drive.
Wilson and the Seahawks, meanwhile, looked like they were about hand Ryan his fourth playoff loss in succession to begin his career with a seven-play drive which resulted in a Lynch touchdown run with 34 seconds left to play. Ryan Longwell’s extra point broke the tie, giving Seattle a 28-27 lead. The air had gone out of the stadium and out of Atlanta’s fanbase.
The Falcons had Matt Ryan at quarterback, however — the man who had 15 fourth quarter comebacks and 22 game-winning drives in just the first five seasons of his career, up to that point. As long as there was time on the clock, he wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Starting the final drive on his own 28-yard-line, Ryan connected with Harry Douglas on a 22-yard catch before calling Atlanta’s second timeout of the half. Now at the 50, Ryan completed a pass to Tony Gonzalez that went for 19 yards. That reception can objectively be considered the most important one of Gonzalez’s illustrious career, given the circumstances.
That sequence set up Matt Bryant to kick the most important FG of his Falcons career. His attempt actually got blocked, but Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had called a timeout to freeze the kicker, so Bryant got another chance. He nailed the 49-yard kick on that second chance to put the Falcons up 30-28.
Following a dreadful squib kick, however, Seattle had a chance at one final hail marry from their own 46. Wilson loaded up and threw a pass into the end zone, but it was intercepted by Julio Jones, who was playing safety.
Ryan hugged team owner Arthur Blank, and had just gotten a huge monkey off of his back, recording his first career playoff win. The Falcons were going to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2004. Seattle would lose a Divisional Round game in Atlanta, and it wouldn’t be the last time that happened.
Ryan had a solid game with 250 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and two interceptions. His passer rating registered at 93.7. Michael Turner, who had run out of gas for the most part in 2012, channeled his younger self in this game, totaling 98 rushing yards on 14 carries. White led all receivers with 76 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Wilson was brilliant for Seattle with 385 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, one interception, while adding 60 rushing yards and a rushing score as well. his passer rating was 109.1. Lynch scored the go-ahead touchdown (at the time), but was contained to the tune of 46 rushing yards on 16 carries along with that costly first quarter fumble. Tight end Zach Miller roasted the Falcons with 142 receiving yards and a touchdown. This Falcons team couldn’t cover TEs to save their life — that was their fatal weakness.