It was a valiant effort against some steep odds, but the Seattle Seahawks fell to the Atlanta Falcons 20-36 in the NFC Divisional Playoff game. Key penalties kept Seattle from piecing together any momentum, while the Falcons’ offense led by the majestic Matt Ryan was unstoppable and undeniably proved to be the best in the entire National Football League.
We wrote in our preview that 30 was the magic number, as in if the Seahawks could keep the Falcons under 30 points they could pull out the win. That was not the case obviously as Ryan absolutely shredded the Seattle secondary en route to 338 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His counterpart, the great Russell Wilson, went for 225 yards with two touchdowns but also two interceptions as he was continually flustered and flushed out of the pocket.
Wilson struck first on a soul sucking and extremely impressive 14-play first drive that ran for eight -and-a-half minutes and that ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jimmy Graham. The drive was a whirlwind of carries from Thomas Rawls combined with key, gut-punching passes from Wilson that made the Seattle offense look extremely comfortable and confident. It would be their best stretch of the game, however.
On the next possession, about halfway through the first quarter, Atlanta basically did the exact same thing as they scored on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took up seven minutes and didn’t end until early in the second quarter when Ryan found Julio Jones for a seven-yard touchdown.
But the Seahawks answered on the ensuing kickoff as newly acquired Devin Hester, the greatest kick returner of all time forever and ever, caught the kickoff, moved his legs up and down and left and right, and outran a bunch of Falcons to gain a huge 50 yards, putting Seattle in prime field position.
After a Wilson three-yard run, he took the snap, took a couple of steps back, and casually lobbed a deep ball to Paul Richardson in single coverage. Richardson made the leaping catch, lost his defender, got up, and sprinted toward the end zone in what appeared to be a 52-yard touchdown — upon review it was called back because Richardson was touched on the ground resulting in a 33-yard pass instead of a touchdown.
The Seahawks later got a field goal out of the drive to take a 10-7 lead.
After forcing an Atlanta punt, the beginning of Seattle’s unraveling occurred. Hester caught the kick at about the 18-yard line, spun around a hapless defender, and absolutely torched the Falcons’ coverage, eventually ending up at the seven-yard line with all the momentum on their side. But then a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing happened.
Kevin Pierre-Louis grabbed his man and was called for offensive holding, wiping out the fantastic run by Hester and giving Seattle the ball on their own seven-yard line instead of the Atlanta seven-yard line. A Rawls run went nowhere and, on the next possession, Wilson took the snap and before he could even realize what the hell was going on, he stumbled backward, into his own end zone where the Falcons pounced on him and got the safety. Russ was tripped by rookie right guard Rees Odhiambo, and stood no chance.
The Falcons took the two points and turned the safety kick into a field goal to snare a 10-12 lead. After forcing a Seattle punt, Atlanta came right back and scored another touchdown late in the second quarter to take a 10-19 lead. And just like that began Seattle’s descent, as the half ended with a hot Atlanta team holding a two-possession lead and receiving the kickoff to begin the second half. It was a bad scenario, with Atlanta a touchdown away from taking a commanding 16-point lead.
Sensing blood, Ryan began the second half by punching Seattle in the mouth as he engineered a 13 play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Devonta Freeman touchdown to give the Falcons a huge 10-26 lead. The teams swapped field goals and punts to end the third, with Seattle facing a 13-29 deficit.
With about 11 minutes to go and down 16 points, Wilson faced his biggest drive of the year in what was essentially a must-score possession. He delivered on the first four plays with a couple of passes and scrambles to bring Seattle to the Atlanta 30. After an incompletion, No. 3 in white got sacked for a loss of six yards. On the next play, against pressure, Wilson scrambled around, darted left and right, and flung a pass while getting hit that got picked off. The Falcons then came right back and scored another touchdown to bring the lead to 13-36.
But Wilson, who never seems to quit (see NFC Championship game, 2015) delivered, with the help of Hester once again. Hester returned the kick for 78 yards which set up a 31-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin, as Seattle struck in just under 20 seconds to give them some life. After forcing a Falcons punt, Wilson had the ball once again, this time against a semi-surmountable 20-36 deficit.
After a couple incompletions, and down 18 points, Wilson went to Luke Willson, who seemingly caught the pass and fell, and, as he did, the ball slipped around like a hot potato, got slapped by a couple of guys, and improbably ended up in the hands of Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones, who intercepted the pass and buried the Seahawks. Ryan ran out the clock, and that was it.
It was a tough loss, with penalties destroying any Seattle momentum and with Matt Ryan, who will be the MVP, on the other side. Ryan sliced and diced the Seahawks with his quick, accurate throws that happened in the blink of an eye.
The lack of discipline hurt the Seahawks, especially on the penalties. The penalties, the penalties, the penalties. But it was also the Atlanta defense, who outplayed the shaky Seattle O-line, sacking Wilson three times and forcing him into some uncomfortable throws.
Despite their star quarterback, defense, and running game being injured for basically half the year, the season was not a disappointment. They finished 10-5-1 and destroyed Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.
Yes it was a fine season — despite all the blood, sweat, and tears, and countless hours of practice and travel and film sessions and press conferences and everything, only one team gets to win the Super Bowl. The sun will still rise, clouds will still form, and hey, at least we all have our Sundays back.
See ya next year.