To truly understand what happened on Sunday, January 13, 2013 and appreciate its outcome, at least from my perspective, let’s first take a look back to a game that was played over a month ago.Flashback: Saturday, December 1, 2012. There’s 1:08 remaining in the 20th SEC Championship Game, and things are looking bleak for the Georgia Bulldogs, as they trail the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide 32-28. An undeniable underdawg in this matchup, Georgia has gone back-and-forth with the Crimson Tide through four quarters of play, but a 45 yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper late has the Bulldogs in a tough situation.
At this point, I have to make a tough confession about myself: I do not like losing; Actually, I loathe it more than anything in the world. Losing to me challenges everything about your ability, no matter what the final score is. With the Dawgs now down four, I am watching the plays literally on the edge of my seat, hoping and praying with those sick and demented football gods for some sort of a miracle.
My prayers seemed to have been answered on the fifth play of the Georgia drive, as Aaron Murray connects with Arthur Lynch for fifteen yards and a Dawgs first down. Two more pass plays follow this pass, and it results in Georgia reaching the Alabama five yard-line with less than ten seconds left in the game.
With the end soon in sight, I, along with the rest of the people in my house, jump out of our seats and crowd around the television, awaiting the final outcome of the biggest game this brand of Bulldogs has ever faced. Can this really be happening? Can these Dawgs topple the unstoppable Nick Saban? Can we honestly be heading to the BCS National Championship?
Unfortunately for Bulldog Nation, Aaron Murray’s last throw of the game is tipped by a Tide defender, which is harmlessly caught by Chris Conley, who falls to the ground short of the end zone. The remaining seconds then tick off, and the game is over. Frustrated by being so close and at the same time so far away from an assured national title, I slam my fists on the TV tray in front of me so hard that Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candy would probably have been wincing in pain.
I sit down in a sense of shock, just staring off and wondering what could have been. “We were five yards away from the title game,” I repeat over and over, like it’s some sort of strange sports’ spell. “We were five yards away.”
Fast-forward to Sunday, the NFC Divisional playoff game between the 13-3 Atlanta Falcons and the 11-5 Seattle Seahawks. For the last four years, Falcons’ fans have had to hear over and over about how good this current crop of players is in the regular season only to falter when the stakes get incredibly high.
Just to pour salt in the wounds of my fellow feathered brethren, I will quickly recount each of the letdowns that the Smith-led Falcons have had. First, there was the Wild Card game in the 2009 against the Arizona Cardinals, a matchup in which the Dirty Birds needed a stop on third and seventeen, but longtime linebacker Keith Brooking did not effectively read Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner’s eyes. Warner hit an open Cardinals’ receiver in the middle of the field, and Arizona went on to win 30-24.
Next, and most painful for me, was the Divisional Round game against the Green Bay Packers in 2011. The Falcons were riding high thanks to proudly possessing the #1 seed in the NFC, but Aaron Rodgers and company quickly silenced these birds of prey, scoring 28 points on the Falcons in the second quarter on their way to a 48-21 victory and the Super Bowl XLV championship.
The most recent postseason blunder for Smitty’s Falcons came in January 2012, when they faced off with the roaring New York Giants. Atlanta seemed ready to break out of their playoff slump pre-game, but instead came out simply flat, leading to a 26-2 defeat that left all those that watched the game wondering when exactly Matt Ryan and his teammates would leave a playoff game with a W.
The 2013 regular season was one full of hope and success for Atlanta, as the team managed a 13-3 regular season record, but it would all come down to a good showing against the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks. Things could not have started better for the Falcons, as great plays on both sides of the ball led to the team jumping out to a 20-0 lead. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for,” I thought right about the time that the Seahawks erred themselves out of at least three points before the first half ended.
While a good portion of those that are fond of the Falcons and I pondered about next week’s meeting in the NFC Championship game, something not uncommon to this Seattle squad occurred: Russell Wilson did not give up.
First, Wilson led the Seahawks on a 9-play, eighty yard drive that ended on a twenty-nine yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate to cut the score to 20-7. No problem, though, for Atlanta, as they answered with an eighty yard drive of their own, which ended on a beautiful shovel pass by Matt Ryan to Jason Snelling that extended the Dirty Birds’ lead to 27-7 with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter.
But Wilson was not done making the magic happen for his road warriors, leading the Seahawks on another eighty yard drive that ended with Wilson scrambling for a one-yard touchdown, cutting their deficit to 27-14. Matt Ryan then did his part to keep Seattle’s hopes alive, turning down the possibility of running the clock to try and target a double-covered Roddy White for a deep play down field. Ryan’s pass was easily intercepted by Earl Thomas on the Seattle 38 yard line, giving Seattle the ball and plenty of time to make some more noise.
Wilson obliged Ryan’s attempt to help his side out, putting together a quick four play, sixty-two yard drive that gutted Atlanta’s defense and left the dumbfounded Falcons’ fans staring at 27-21 scoreboard.
Three possessions then went by—one for Seattle and two for Atlanta—before another scoring drive appeared, and this one appeared to possess the inevitable dagger that some Falcons fans have annually waited on ever since 1980, when Danny White relieved an injured Roger Staubach and led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind 30-27 victory over Atlanta. Wilson, in White-like fashion, made all the right moves on this possession, leading to a 2-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch to give the Seahawks a 30-28 lead with just 0:31 left in the game.
At this point, I had lost all hope for my Falcons. After all, the offense had been abysmal in the entire second half of play, and, naturally, the football gods have had disdain for my teams as long as I could remember; just consider that Georgia game they had previously jobbed me out of. After screaming “We’re going to lose” for the last eight minutes, at this juncture I believed it to be true: The Atlanta Falcons were thirty-one seconds away from their season ending.
However, Matty Ice decided that things were far from over in the Georgia Dome. Ryan led the Falcons offense on a mad dash towards Seahawks territory, connecting with Harry Douglas for twenty-two yards and then with Tony Gonzalez for nineteen yards on the very next play. With our timeouts now history, Mike Smith sent Matt Bryant out on the field to attempt a 49-yard field goal that would give Atlanta the lead and a little bit of hope.
Bryant lined up for his attempt, and much to the chagrin of most in the Georgia Dome, missed the field goal to the right; unfortunately for the fans of the flock of Seahawks, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll called a timeout. Now with his crosshairs centered on the middle of the goal posts, Bryant proceeded to make Falcons’ fans wishes come true, drilling the field goal to give Atlanta a 30-28 lead with eight seconds remaining.
Despite a truly awful squib kick by Matt Bosher, the Seahawks were still left out of field goal range, leaving the fate of the Seahawks and Falcons’ playoff outcomes in the hands of a twenty-four year old from Richmond, Virginia. Stationed on the Atlanta 48, Wilson put all he had behind a pass aimed towards the right corner of the end zone, where several Seahawks stood, waiting to tear the hearts out of Dirty Birds everywhere.
Fortunately, two years ago Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff executed a trade for a kid from Foley, Alabama, the same kid that was now surrounded by Seahawks in the end zone. This kid, better known by NFL viewers as Julio Jones, leaped up for and successfully caught Wilson’s pass, ending this wild game with a desperately needed win for Hotlanta’s home team.
With the clock now proudly glaring all zeroes, I slowly collapsed onto the floor, bewildered by the final two minutes of an unbelievable game. “Did that just happen?” I repeated under my breath over and over. I do not think I have ever gone from so frustrated to so happy in such a short period of time; right before my eyes the Falcons had avoided adding another embarrassing page to their unfortunate collection of playoff woes.
Although surviving this game puts a happy ending on this conflict, it is merely the first chapter of a story that Falcons’ fans hope turns out to be a three chapter tale about the Falcons’ run in the playoffs in 2013. Next to appear is a passage about a game between the San Francisco 49ers, a squad led by a quarterback who on Saturday set a record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in any game. A frequent bouncer that stands in the way of the Falcons’ joining the elite party of Super Bowl winning teams, San Francisco will undoubtedly show up to the Georgia Dome on Sunday ready to filet some Falcons on their way to their first Super Bowl appearance since some quarterback by the name of Steve Young was the signal-caller.
While the outcome of Sunday’s game has probably not been decided by the football gods quite yet, I have already made an important decision on the meeting: I am done dealing directly with these guys. No more pleas, complaints, or thoughtless screams from this fan; I am quitting cold turkey. The way I see it, I am 1-for-2 in big games over the last two months when I have worked closely with them, and it’s hard to beat that winning percentage.
Starting Sunday, I promise that I will limit myself to sitting silently and occasionally nodding as my Falcons battle for a trip to New Orleans. I only have one request to ask of my readers: someone please slip a piece of paper with updates under the door of my padded room as I sit in solitary, because that’s the only way I will get to know what’s happening and keep my oath. But, one second thought, promises were made to be broken, right?