There was 1:39 left in the 4th quarter. 4th down and 10 on the Atlanta Falcons’ 25-yard-line. Quarterback Matt Ryan was in the shotgun. The 12s were making a lot of noise and the 69,071 fans were raucous. Ryan took the snap, looked downfield, fired a pass to wide receiver Julio Jones. He got his left hand on the ball while Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman grabbed his right arm, pulled it so that Jones wasn’t able to haul in Ryan’s pass. The ball fell incomplete between Jones’s legs and the Seahawks took over on downs.
That was the description of the final offensive play for the Atlanta Falcons. Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn was visibly distraught and screaming at the officials after the play. The Seahawks knelt three times and came away 26-24 winners at CenturyLink Field. The Falcons dropped to 4-2 and the Seahawks improved to 4-1. After the game, Quinn remained mum regarding the final play.
“As you go through the last play, usually one play doesn’t define it. We will look at it and see where it goes. We certainly had other opportunities in the game to go capitalize and finish but we won’t let it come down to one time for us.”
Julio Jones also remained mum regarding the final play. He and Sherman had a brief exchange regarding the incomplete pass in his presser, he didn’t take any shots or exceptions.
“It was fourth down. Matt (Ryan) just threw the ball up and gave me an opportunity to make a play on the ball,” Jones said. “We desperately needed it. First of all to get the first down and potentially to get a field goal … Before I took off he grabbed my right side and spun me around before I jumped up. It was just a missed call. It’s over with. It’s done, we are on the next right now.”
In the first half, Atlanta notched a meager 86 yards of offense, 15 rushing yards and were 0-for-6 on third downs.
The Falcons stormed out of the halftime break by scoring 21 unanswered points in the third quarter after being down 17-3. In the penultimate period, Ryan was 13-of-17 for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns. The league’s best offense responded to the different coverage looks and physicality the Seahawks’ defense threw at them. Ryan said the Falcons settled down in the second half. Also, Ryan noticed the Seahawks defense played with eight men in the box all the time and the Falcons offense didn’t handle the environment early in the game.
“You know going into it, it’s going to be that type of game,” Ryan said of Seattle’s defense. “Obviously, this is a very good defense. They’re extremely physical, and when you play on the road as a quarterback you have to prepare yourself for that. For me, I don’t worry about that. You just pop back up and go to the next play. That’s kind of always the way I’ve approached it, and I don’t think you really ever change that. Did it feel good or whatever? Touchdowns always feel good. It doesn’t matter if you get hit the play before or you don’t get touched. Anytime you score it feels good. I thought we did a great job in the third quarter of taking advantage of opportunities that we had.”
Ryan finished up with 335 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked four times and was strip-sacked by defensive end Cliff Avril. His quarterback rating was 102.8.
“I like where our team identity is now, so badly that I want the identity to happen right away,” Quinn said. “It’s growing stronger, that toughness, that resolve where we can attack in all three phases. That identity, I am pleased we are starting to become.”
During the third quarter, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was upset with teammates because it appeared that the Seahawks missed an assignment that led to a blown coverage and led to a 36 yard go-ahead touchdown reception by Julio Jones. Sherman screamed at Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner among others. Michael Bennett and the Legion of Boom calmed Sherman down. When asked about the outburst, Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll was straightforward about Sherman and the LoB.
“He got upset, Carroll said. “He got really upset that we didn’t play something correctly. We’re emotional, it’s an emotional team, emotional guys, and we ride that emotion. I’m not surprised. When we get that hot, we have to control it better so we don’t get in the way of what’s coming up. That’s what these guys are like. I am, too. We’ll figure it out.”
When the Seahawks defense got hot, their offense woke from their malaise. The Seahawks scored the game’s final nine points. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson notched 270 yards while completing 25-of-37 passes. His scrambling on a sprained ankle and hurt knee kept drives alive.
“I felt great,” Wilson said. “I was able to make a few runs when we needed to and we played a very good defense.”
Ryan’s lone interception was by Earl Thomas on a pass intended for and tipped by Julio Jones.
“The type of guy I am, I can make those plays and I should make those plays, said Jones of the interception. “It happens, it’s just football. We just have to get the next one, continue to get the next one, don’t hold your head about anything, just be out there for your brothers and always get the next one.”
Following the interception, the Seahawks ran seven plays ending with kicker Steven Hauschka kicking a 44 yard field goal to put Seattle ahead 26-24 with 2:02 left in the game.
Notes: Matt Ryan continued his streak of throwing for at least 200 yards in 45 straight games, tying Dan Fouts. Ryan had just 83 yards passing in the first half. He exploded and threw for 252 yards in the second half. The Falcons offense recorded 362 total yards; the most yards the Seahawks defense has given up this season. Ryan threw three touchdown passes today, the most touchdown passes the Seahawks defense has given up during the 2016 season. Coming into the game, the Seahawks defense gave up one touchdown pass in their previous four games. The Falcons defense held the Seahawks to 72 rushing yards. The defense hasn’t allowed a 100 yard rusher in 11 straight weeks.
With today’s victory, Seattle’s Russell Wilson became the third-fastest starting quarterback to reach 50 career victories. He accomplished that in his 69th career start. Only Ken Stabler (62) and Tom Brady (65) reached the feat in fewer games. Wilson’s career record as a starter in the regular season is 50-19. The win also meant Wilson completed his 20th 4th quarter or overtime comeback in his career.
Seattle’s defensive end Cliff Avril, who during the offseason went to Haiti and helped rebuild a school, pledged earlier in the week to fund a new house in Haiti for every sack he records this season. He had two sacks in today’s victory. After the country suffered catastrophic damage during Hurricane Matthew’s onslaught, Avril’s efforts did not go unnoticed.
“The more the better, man,” Avril said. “I didn’t think about that until after the game when somebody pointed that out. I’m just grateful to be able to help out. I’m fortunate to be in a situation to be able to do that, so it’s pretty cool.”
Photos in this article are by the Associated Press, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.