Atlanta, GA – It took a 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with less than 10 seconds remaining, but Matt Ryan finally got the proverbial playoff monkey off his back.
The fifth-year Falcons quarterback threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns en route to his first playoff victory, as Atlanta fought off a second-half surge from the Seattle Seahawks to earn a 30-28 win in an NFC Divisional Playoff at the Georgia Dome.
Ryan, who had dropped his first three playoff appearances, finished 24-of-35 with two interceptions, while Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries for the Falcons, who had lost their last four postseason games.
"We knew coming into it, it was going to be tough. That's a very good defense" Ryan admitted of Seattle. "Luckily we made enough plays to come out with the win."
Atlanta will host an NFC Championship game for the first time next Sunday when the Falcons welcome the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers to the Georgia Dome.
Russell Wilson finished 24-of-36 for a postseason team record 385 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception, but the rookie's sensational season ended on a sour note, as the Seahawks saw their six-game win streak come to an end.
"When the game was over I was very disappointed," Wilson admitted. "Right before I got back to the tunnel, walking off the field, I got so excited for the next opportunity next year, looking forward to what we have in the future. We have a great football team."
Wilson also rushed for 60 yards and a score on seven carries, while Marshawn Lynch added 46 yards and a touchdown on 16 rushes for the Seahawks, who have lost their last four NFC Divisional Playoff games.
Atlanta's defense held Seattle scoreless in the first half while the offense built a comfortable 20-0 advantage behind a pair of touchdown passes from Ryan and two Bryant field goals.
"I can't imagine anybody expected that we were going to have a chance to get back in the game, except for the guys in that locker room," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of his team trailing by 20 at halftime. "They knew that we'd have a chance to get back in that game. They felt it the whole time."
Wilson then led the Seahawks on a second-half resurgence, with the first-year signal-caller leading his team on a trio of scoring drives on their first three touches of the second half to bring the visitors within 27-21 with 9:13 left in the game.
Seattle's next touch ended in a punt, but after a quick series from the Falcons ended in a punt, Seattle took over at its own 39 with 3:00 minutes remaining.
After Lynch picked up a first down near midfield with a short 7-yard grab, Wilson fired a strike to Golden Tate for 19 yards down to the Atlanta 32. Facing 3rd-and-5 three plays later, Wilson used his athleticism to avoid a rusher before dumping off a short pass to Lynch, who rumbled 24 yards down the left sideline to the Atlanta 3.
Following a 12 men on the field penalty against the Falcons, Lynch surged through the line and into the end zone for a 2-yard score to put Seattle in front, 28-27, with 31 ticks on the clock.
Ryan, though, would not let the rookie steal the show, as the veteran quarterback calmly rifled a pass to Harry Douglas for a 22-yard gain to midfield.
Following a timeout, Ryan went to Tony Gonzalez over the middle for 19 yards to the Atlanta 31. After both teams used a timeout, Bryant stepped up and buried the go-ahead field goal to give Atlanta the decisive advantage.
"What a way to do it though," Gonzalez said of his first playoff victory in his 16th NFL season. "It seems like it could not have happened any other way if it was going to get done. I'm so happy we were able to pull it out."
After Atlanta squibbed the ensuing kickoff, the Seahawks took over near midfield with eight seconds left, but the comeback bid fell short, as Wilson's Hail Mary heave landed in the arms of Julio Jones to seal the outcome.
The Wisconsin product started Seattle's second-half surge with a 9-play, 80- yard scoring drive that he capped with a 29-yard scoring strike to Tate to bring Seattle within 20-7 just over five minutes into the third.
Ryan responded with a scoring drive of his own, as he capped a 14-play march with a 5-yard shovel pass to Jason Snelling to restore Atlanta's 20-point edge.
Wilson and the Seahawks kept rolling on their next touch. He completed all four passes on the 8-play drive, which he capped early in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard scramble around the left end to trim the margin to 27-14 just under two minutes into the final frame.
Seattle intercepted Ryan on Atlanta's ensuing touch, as safety Earl Thomas picked off a pass intended for Roddy White at the Seattle 39.
Wilson quickly took advantage of the turnover thanks to a 30-yard catch-and- run from Ryan Turbin down to the Atlanta 3. On the next play, Wilson faked a handoff and found a wide-open Zach Miller in the back left corner of the end zone for a 3-yard score to bring Seattle within 27-21 with 9:13 left.
Early on, Bryant connected on a 39-yard field goal to start the scoring on Atlanta's first touch of the game.
After a three-and-out from Seattle, Ryan was intercepted by Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner, but the Seahawks gave the ball right back, as Lynch was stripped three plays later to give Atlanta possession at its own 39.
Ryan kept Atlanta's ensuing touch alive with a 16-yard strike to White on 3rd- and-14 down to the Seattle 17. Two plays later, Ryan faked a handoff and found Gonzalez in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard score to make it 10-0 with 3:10 left in the first.
Following a Seattle punt, Jacquizz Rodgers surged up the middle on the first play of Atlanta's ensuing touch and plowed through Thomas en route to a 45- yard rush down to the Seattle 42.
Ryan scrambled for six yards down to the Seattle 11 later in the drive, but a false start penalty on 3rd-and-2 handcuffed the drive and the Falcons were forced to settle for Bryant's 37-yard field goal to take a 13-0 advantage with 9:13 to play until halftime.
Wilson opened Seattle's ensuing touch with back-to-back completions down to the Atlanta 20 before finding Lynch for six yards down to the Atlanta 11.
Turbin was then stacked up at the line for no gain on 3rd-and-1, but the Seahawks elected to go for it on 4th-and-1. The plan would backfire, as fullback Michael Robinson was stuffed for a 1-yard loss to turn ball over on downs with 5:38 left in the half.
"You can look at it anyway you want, but we had a chance," Carroll said of going for it on fourth down. "You have to make the six inches or whatever it was."
Turner rumbled ahead for 33 yards on the second play of Atlanta's ensuing touch and two plays later, Ryan heaved a pass deep down the middle of the field for White, who hauled in the 47-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-0 with 4:16 left in the half.
Seattle appeared poised to put points on the board late in the half, as Wilson converted a 3rd-and-1 with a 4-yard toss to Tate down to the Atlanta 6 with 25 ticks remaining.
The Seahawks would come away empty, however, after Wilson was sacked for a 9- yard loss on 3rd-and-11. With no timeouts remaining, Seattle tried to scramble for a last second play, but Wilson couldn't get the snap off before time expired and the Seahawks went into the locker room trailing, 20-0.
Sunday's matchup was the first playoff meeting between the two teams ... Seattle hasn't reached the conference championship since going to the Super Bowl in 2005 ... White is now tied with Terrance Mathis for the franchise postseason career record for touchdown catches with 3 ... Miller finished with eight catches for 142 yards and a score, while Tate totaled six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown ... Seattle racked up 491 total yards of offense, while Atlanta managed 417 total yards.