ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds left and the Atlanta Falcons bounced back after blowing a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, defeating Russell Wilson and the gutty Seattle Seahawks 30-28 in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday.
The Falcons (14-3) appeared ready to allow the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history when Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left.
But Matt Ryan completed two long passes after the kickoff, setting up Bryant’s winning kick and sending the Falcons to the NFC championship game for only the third time in franchise history. They will host the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday.
Wilson passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, but it wasn’t enough for the Seahawks (12-6).
‘‘Wow!’’ said Falcons coach Mike Smith.
Wilson finished with 385 yards passing and did all he could to lead the Seahawks back from a 27-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter. When Lynch powered over in the final minute, a play set up by the rookie quarterback’s brilliant scramble, Seattle celebrated like it would be moving on.
Not so fast.
Ryan, who had struggled in his first three playoff appearances, had just enough time to rally the Falcons. He hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and Smith quickly signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the middle to his favorite target, tight end Tony Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could've been his final game.
Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the field goal try.
The Seahawks called time just before the ball was snapped, and Bryant’s kick sailed right of the upright. That turned out to be nothing more than practice. The next one was right down the middle, giving the Falcons a stunning victory.
Wilson’s last throw, a desperation heave into the end zone, was intercepted by Falcons receiver Julio Jones.
Gonzalez, who had never won a playoff game in his 16-year career, broke down in tears after Bryant’s kick went through the uprights.
‘‘I've never cried after a win,’’ said Gonzalez, who has stated repeatedly that he’s ‘‘95 percent’’ sure this is his final year. ‘‘I was thinking, ‘Here we go again. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.'’’
The Falcons won the first playoff game of the Ryan era, having gone one-and-done in his previous appearances to give the team — and its quarterback — a reputation for excelling in the regular season but choking in the postseason. Not anymore. Atlanta is one win away from the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Ryan threw three touchdown passes and overcame two interceptions, finishing 24 of 35 for a personal-best 250 yards in the postseason. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez, a 47-yarder to Roddy White and a 5-yarder to Snelling, the latter with 2:11 left in the third quarter to give the Falcons a seemingly commanding lead.
No team had ever rallied from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Wilson nearly pulled it off, running 1 yard for a touchdown to make it 27-14, then going to Zach Miller on a 3-yard touchdown pass that closed the gap to 27-21.
Finally, taking over at his own 39 after an Atlanta punt, Wilson completed three passes for 50 yards, the last of them a short throw to Lynch that went all the way to the Falcons 3 after the quarterback spun away from rushing Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.