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Updated Monday, January 14, 2013 at 09:09 AM

Seahawks rally but fall to Falcons, 30-28

By Danny O'Neil
Seattle Times staff reporter

ATLANTA — It was agonizing. Then it was amazing.

And in the end, it was utterly excruciating for the Seahawks and the city behind them.

It was Atlanta 30, Seattle 28 at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons' kicker making a 49-yard field goal with eight seconds left in a second-round playoff game that went from maddening to miraculous to miserable for Seattle.

"Couldn't finish it," coach Pete Carroll said.

It was incredible the Seahawks got that close, yet a shame it had to come to that.

This was a game that was hard to envision Seattle winning, given the chances it wasted in the first half and the defensive performance it had. The Seahawks were behind by 20 points in the first half, trailed 27-7 when the fourth quarter began and didn't force Atlanta's first punt until midway through the final period.

But by the final minute, it was harder to imagine Seattle losing. The Seahawks scored 21 consecutive points in the fourth quarter and Russell Wilson, after throwing for 144 yards in the first half, finished with 385, a playoff record for the franchise and NFL rookies.

When Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left, Seattle had its first lead of the game and was in position to match the largest comeback victory of any game in franchise history.

Twenty-five seconds. That's how much time was left when Atlanta's offense took the field at its 28, trailing for the first time.

Twenty-five seconds. That's how long Seattle's defense — which allowed the fewest points in the league during the regular season — needed to hold on.

Turned out 12 seconds was all the Falcons needed to complete two passes and put kicker Matt Bryant in position for the game-winning field goal that turned Seattle's incredible comeback into ash.

"We're a real resilient young team," defensive tackle Red Bryant said. "We had our opportunities. Atlanta made some great plays, and was able to get the game-winning field goal."

And Seattle will spend the offseason wondering what might have been. What if Lynch hadn't fumbled in Atlanta territory in the first quarter? What if Seattle had chosen to kick a field goal in the second quarter instead of going for it on fourth-and-one from the Atlanta 11? What if the Seahawks hadn't frittered away a second scoring opportunity in the final minute of the second quarter, Wilson getting sacked on third down with no timeouts remaining?

Yet despite all that, Seattle was less than a minute from winning in the second round of the playoffs for only the third time in franchise history.

"We're going to fight you to the end," linebacker Leroy Hill said. "That's one thing I can always say about this team. Until the last second, we fight. Just fell a little short."

The Seahawks stared down their largest deficit of the season for the second consecutive week. This time, they did it against a fully functional opposing quarterback. Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns, but was also picked off twice.

Wilson completed his first 10 passes of the second half. He threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate, scrambled 1 yard for a score and then found tight end Zach Miller for a 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

By the time Lynch scored in the final minute, losing control of the ball after he crossed into the end zone, the nation was buzzing and Seattle was absolutely electric.

"It was an extraordinary game and an exquisite comeback," Carroll said. "The quarterback was incredible — and everybody that made all those plays to get us back."

The future is bright for this team, one of the youngest in the league and led by a rookie quarterback who overcame a double-digit deficit on the road in the playoffs for the second time in eight days. There will be time to talk about next season for Seattle, which has all but two starters from Sunday's game signed through at least 2013.

But this was an oh-so-winnable game. They outgained the Falcons 491 yards to 417. The Seahawks forced more turnovers (two) than they committed (one), until Wilson was picked off on the game's final play.

And for all the attention that Atlanta's receivers got this week, it was Miller who led with eight catches for 142 yards, one away from matching the Seahawks' record for a postseason game.

Still, Atlanta's Roddy White caught a 47-yard touchdown pass — the longest scoring pass against Seattle this season — and timeless tight end Tony Gonzalez couldn't have been more timely with his six catches, one of which resulted in a touchdown and another that set up the game-winning field goal.

Seattle didn't run out of time after scoring four second-half touchdowns, it left too much of it. And now it will spend the offseason tortured by what could have been.

"I would have really liked it if he missed the kick," Carroll joked.

It would have been even better for Seattle if it hadn't come down to that.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @dannyoneil.

What if ...

A look at Sunday's miscues.

25 seconds left, no D

After taking stunning lead with 31 seconds left, Hawks surrender two passes to set up heartbreaking FG

No time to kick it

Russell Wilson sacked with 17 seconds to go in first half, trying for a TD with Seattle scoreless

Can't get 1 yard

Trailing 13-0 in second quarter, Hawks can't convert on third-and-1 and then fourth-and-1

Lynch's costly fumble

Marshawn Lynch coughs up the ball in first quarter at Atlanta 39, setting up the Falcons' first TD

Back and fourth

The fourth quarter was all Seahawks. Until the final 31 seconds.

Seattle: The quarter opened with the Seahawks trailing 27-7 but with the ball at the Falcons' 13-yard line. Four plays later, Seattle scored on a 1-yard run by Russell Wilson to make it 27-14 with 13:01 to play.

Atlanta: On the fourth play of the Falcons' next possession, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw a deep pass that was intercepted by Seattle's Earl Thomas, giving the Seahawks the ball back with 11:03 to play.

Seattle: The Seahawks zipped 62 yards down the field in four plays, scoring on a 3-yard pass from Wilson to Zach Miller to cut the lead to 27-21 with 9:13 remaining.

Atlanta: The Falcons went three-and-out and had to punt, giving the Seahawks the ball at their 40-yard line with 7:23 to go.

Seattle: After one first down, three straight incomplete passes forced the Seahawks to punt. John Ryan's punt landed in the end zone — barely — giving the Falcons the ball at their 20 with 5:32 to play.

Atlanta: After one first down, the Seahawks forced another punt, getting the ball back at their 39-yard line with exactly three minutes to play.

Seattle: The Seahawks marched easily downfield, the big plays a 19-yard pass to Golden Tate and a 24-yard play when Wilson dumped the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, who took it to the 3-yard line. With 31 seconds to play, Lynch scored from 2 yards out, making it 28-27 Seahawks.

Atlanta: Ryan made two clutch passes — a 22-yard completion to Harry Douglas and a 19-yarder to Tony Gonzalez, moving the ball quickly from the Atlanta 28 to the Seattle 31. Falcons coach Mike Smith called a timeout with 13 seconds left — a move that almost cost him later. Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal to make it 30-28, Falcons.

Seattle: The Falcons squibbed the kickoff but didn't get it as far down the field as they'd hoped, with the Seahawks recovering at their 46-yard line with eight seconds to play. Wilson completed a pass to Doug Baldwin for only 6 yards before he was able to get out of bounds with two seconds left. A final Hail Mary pass was intercepted by Atlanta receiver Julio Jones in the end zone.


JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Twenty-three seconds after the Seahawks thought they had won the game, they could only watch as Falcons kicker Matt Bryant celebrated his game-winning 49-yard field goal.




JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll nearly orchestrated a second straight playoff comeback, but his team fell just short.




JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Atlanta's Sean Weatherspoon knocks the ball free from Marshawn Lynch, who lost a fumble for the fourth time this season, and the second time in the playoffs.




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