Seattle Seahawks Leon Washington returns a punt by Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bosher, right, in the second half of a NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks' chance at a historic comeback against Atlanta came up short.
Short and to the left, to be more precise. That was the result of Steven Hauschka's game-winning field-goal try. His 61-yard attempt, the longest in franchise history, landed with a thud in the end zone to give the Atlanta Falcons a 30-28 victory.
"We just didn't pull it off," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "It's about as much as you can take out of a game (when) you get beat."
It was a game that was closer than anyone could have expected after a first half in which the Falcons had the ball twice as long as the Seahawks and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan had more rushing yards than Seattle's entire team. The Falcons lead bulged to 20 points early in the third quarter, and CenturyLink Field grew so disquietingly silent you could hear the echoes of three straight losing seasons.
Hard to imagine that by the end of the second half, the Seahawks would be gnashing their teeth about two timeouts used on defense and debating whether to try a historically long field goal or go for it on fourth-and-eight.
And after Seattle came up short, Carroll looked at his team and saw more progress against Atlanta than he had in his Seahawks' victory over the Cardinals a week earlier.
"Last week was terrific to get the win," Carroll said. "But we gained more today. I think we proved more today."
The Falcons looked every bit the NFC heavyweight they were supposed to be in the first half. Quarterback Matt Ryan was impeccable on third down, and Atlanta's rotund running back Michael Turner ate up yards like they were doughnuts.
What looked like a blowout at halftime turned into a nail-biter for the Falcons.
"This is a tough place to come and play," Ryan said. "We hung in there and hung on at the end."
Seattle's defense held an opponent without a second-half touchdown for the second consecutive week, while the Seahawks' offense, which was sleepwalking through another game, woke up in the second half and roused the crowd along with it, breaking off chunks of Atlanta's lead seven points at a time.
First there was a 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, then an 11-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch and after Ben Obomanu's 8-yard touchdown pass with 8:13 left, Seattle trailed 30-28.
Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson passed for a career-high 319 yards, and threw three touchdown passes. With 22 seconds left, Seattle had the ball at the Atlanta 45 with one timeout left, and looked to be positioning itself for the game-winning kick.
Jackson spiked the ball to kill the clock. An illegal-motion penalty against receiver Sidney Rice cost Seattle 5 crucial yards, Zach Miller gained back 7 on second down. A third-down incompletion left Seattle facing fourth-and-8.
"We could have executed a little better at the end," Jackson said. "It didn't happen. We gave ourselves a chance to win, and that's all you can ask for."
It's certainly more than anyone could have expected early in the third quarter, when Atlanta's Matt Bryant kicked the second of his three field goals to give Atlanta a 27-7 lead.
With 13 seconds left, Seattle stood at the Atlanta 43 facing fourth-and-eight and a big decision.Go for it? Seattle would need to gain the first down, burn its final timeout and then have one chance at a game-winning field goal. Instead, Carroll sent Hauschka out.
"It was a career kick," Carroll said.
No Seahawk had ever attempted a field goal longer than 60 yards until Hauschka stepped onto the field. No player in franchise history has ever made one longer than 58.
But after Jackson had led Seattle back, Carroll didn't want his team to walk off the field without even lining up for an attempt at a winner.
"He got us in position to win a football game," Carroll said.
Turns out that position was just a little bit out of Hauschka's range Sunday.