ATLANTA — Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith has every right to call Sunday's 30-28 National Football Conference playoff victory over Seattle "just another football game."
Just don't expect many Falcons fans ever to share his sentiments.
Not when the home team blew all of a 27-7 lead in the final period inside the Georgia Dome before Matt Bryant kicked his game-winning, 49-yard field goal a mere eight seconds from the horn.
Not when this was the first playoff victory for Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan in their five years together, their first three post-season contests ending in defeat.
Not when this victory advances the top-seeded Falcons (14-3) to this Sunday's NFC championship game against visiting San Francisco (12-4-1), where one more victory places them in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
Especially not when Ryan -- who's often referred to as "Matty Ice" -- took the field for a final time with just 25 seconds to go, 78 yards from the end zone, and coolly hit Harry Douglas on a 22-yard pass, then Tony Gonzalez on a 19-yard completion to set up Bryant's boot.
Douglas said, "Matt just told us, 'Hey, let's go win this thing. We've got two timeouts. All we need is a field goal. We've done this before.'"
Added a grinning Bryant, "And now we've done it again."
The 70,366 Falcons fans inside the Dome were filled with varying degrees of resignation, regret and rage before Bryant's kick, convinced their football heroes had again done themselves in under the post-season's brighter lights.
Heading onto the field after Seattle grabbed the lead, Gonzalez shared their frustration.
"I thought, 'I guess this is it,'" said the 36-year-old tight end, who felt his eyes water after the game. "A lot of emotional highs and lows today. But that's football."
Center Todd McClure, 35 years old and in his 14th season, went farther, admitting, "I'm human. In my head I was thinking, 'All this work down the drain.'"
Yet they'd also seen Ryan deliver similar miracles before. At Chicago a couple of seasons ago. Against Carolina inside the Dome earlier this season, Bryant eventually booting a 40-yarder to win that one.
Still, those weren't playoff contests.
"And no matter what anybody said, we all knew there was a lot of pressure on us today," McClure added. "I've never felt anything like it."
But in those final 25 seconds they all played as if they hadn't a care in the world.
"As a team, as a coaching staff, nobody flinched," said Ryan. "We just kept battling, kept doing what we do."
Actually, they did what they hadn't done since 2004, which was win a playoff game.
"To win the way we did, I'll never forget it," said McClure. "No one in this locker room will ever forget it. No one who's ever cheered for the Falcons will ever forget it."
Especially if they can win one more.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
related articles »
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Rarely at a loss for words, Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud doesn't seem the least bit ...
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — A slip of the tongue gave away Atlanta coach Mike Smith's focus.
Matt Ryan threw for 291 yards, rookie Julio Jones caught 11 passes for 127 yards, and the Atlanta Falcons held ...