The Seahawks started strongly, but a special teams penalty and a safety gave Atlanta momentum and the Falcons poured it on for a 36-20 victory in the NFC playoffs Saturday.
A diabolical sequence of events in the second quarter, starting with a special teams holding penalty, sent Atlanta on its way to a decisive 36-20 victory over the Seahawks Saturday in an NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome (box). In addition to a litany of unforced errors, Seattle couldn’t contain Falcons QB Matt Ryan, likely the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
The Seahawks started in splendid fashion, marching 89 yards in 14 plays after the opening kickoff for a touchdown, a seven-yard pass from Russell Wilson to TE Jimmy Graham. Behind Ryan, Atlanta answered with a 13-play scoring drive to tie the game 7-7.
After Stephen Hauschka gave Seattle a 10-7 lead with a 33-yard field goal, the Seahawks forced a punt that was returned 80 yards by Devin Hester. But the return was wiped out by a holding call on Kevin Pierre-Louis, forcing Seattle to start the drive from its own 7.
The 80-yard setback erased all the momentum the Seahawks built: Instead of first-and-10 at the Atlanta seven, the Seahawks faced first-and-10 from their own seven. the game changed completely.
After RB Thomas Rawls lost three yards on a run that had no chance, Wilson dropped back to throw, but tripped over rookie RG Rees Odhiambo, filling in for the injured Germain Ifedi. Wilson fell into the end zone for a safety. Seattle 10, Atlanta 9. A subsequent Matt Bryant field goal gave the Falcons a 12-10 lead.
After Seattle went 3-and-out, punter Jon Ryan pinned Atlanta on its one-yard line with a 60-yard boot. But Ryan, directing an offense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL at 33.8 points per game, responded with a 99-yard scoring drive in 2:55 that gave Atlanta a 19-10 halftime lead.
The penalty on Pierre-Louis negated a potential 17-7 lead and morphed into a 19-10 deficit. When Ryan directed another scoring drive to open the second half, the Seahawks were toast, losing in the divisional round for the second consecutive season.
What worked so effectively against Detroit in the wild card round, the running game, mostly failed after the first drive in which Rawls ran for 29 yards. He was a non-factor thereafter, finishing with 34 on 11 carries after running for a franchise-record 161 against the Lions last week. Wilson led the Seahawks with 49 yards on six carries.
Wilson completed 17 of 30 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for a rating of 75.0 — not the line he was looking for after going 4-for-4 for 40 yards and a touchdown, plus 16 rushing yards, on Seattle’s opening drive. Wilson’s first pick, a floater, was all on him. The second, which should have been a completion, was fumbled by TE Luke Willson after the catch and tipped three times before Atlanta corralled the ball.
Seattle’s opening drive took 8:34, its longest of the season. Wilson’s first-quarter TD pass to Graham was his first, first-quarter TD pass of the season.
WR Paul Richardson had four catches for 83 yards and WR Doug Baldwin five (nine targets) for 80. Baldwin scored on a 31-yard pass from Wilson with 3:21 remaining. Graham had three catches for 22 yards, but was invisible after scoring his first-quarter touchdown.
Ryan shredded Seattle’s banged-up defense for 338 yards, three touchdowns and a 125.7 passer rating after leading the NFL with a 117.1 mark during the regular season. The Seahawks sacked Ryan three times — Michael Bennett, Ahtyba Rubin, Frank Clark — and had eight hits on him, but otherwise gave Ryan too much time to pick them apart.
The 99-yard scoring drive by Atlanta just before halftime was the longest against a Pete Carroll-coached Seattle team. Tampa Bay mounted a 98-yard TD drive in 2010.
LB K.J. Wright led Seattle with 10 tackles (five solo) while SS Kam Chancellor had nine (seven solo). LB Bobby Wagner and CB Richard Sherman both had eight tackles.
The Seahawks allowed 422 yards, a playoff high under Carroll.
“We really came out smoking. We had a chance to take this game into a new storyline. But there was an enormous turnaround after the punt return and penalty. They took advantage of it. That was the time to take advantage and go up 17-7. That was our shot, but it was a huge turnaround, a ridiculously large play in the game. Atlanta played really well. They did their thing. They deserved it. Atlanta really functions well. It was hard to stop them. But as we look down the road, I can’t wait to see what our guys come back with.” — Seattle head coach Pete Carroll
“I’m looking forward to what we have coming up next and the great things that are going to happen. We had to overcome a lot of situations this year. It was a tough season physically for me. Tonight, they played a little bit better. I know I’m looking forward to next year already.” — Wilson
“We got outside of ourselves on defense. Plays we normally make, we didn’t make. They executed well. Hats off to them. But we lost our focus” — Chancellor
“The Atlanta Falcons played really well. The momentum and the emotion of the game changed (when Hester’s punt return was wiped out by the penalty). We still had plenty of time, but it didn’t happen after that. I felt like with three minutes left we still had a chance. But football is like that. Sometimes you win and sometimes you have to learn. We still have a lot of opportunities ahead of us.” — Baldwin.
“They made plays all day and it was unfortunate we couldn’t stop them.” — Seahawks DE Cliff Avril.
“For our fans, this is awesome. We knew it was going to be a hard battle because the Seahawks are as tough as they come.” — Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn
The Seahawks, hoping to make their third NFC title-game appearance in four years, fell to 16-15 all-time in playoff games, including 3-11 on the road . . . Seattle has not won a divisional playoff game on the road since 1983 at Miami . . . Seattle is 10-7 all-time vs. Atlanta . . . Wilson is 8-4 in 12 postseason appearances, 2-3 on the road . . . Carroll is 9-5 in postseason games with Seattle . . . Quinn recorded his first playoff win . . . Oddity: Not only did the Seahawks’ season end in the Georgia Dome, so did the University of Washington’s with its loss to Alabama in the national semifinals.