There's a notion that "clutch" isn't a skill, because luck in close games evens out over a long period of time. And there's something to that.
But there has to be some explanation for Atlanta's Matt Ryan and the Falcons being able to pull these types of games out of their hats time and time again.
The Falcons were called overrated because they were on the right end of so many close games this season. There was crazy Hail Mary from Ryan's own end zone to set up a game-winning field goal to beat the Panthers. They pulled out the Raiders game on a late drive and last-second field goal. There were other close, late wins against Washington, Arizona and Tampa Bay. They lived on the edge all year.
So, at least, when Seattle took a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left, this wasn't a new situation for the Falcons. You could argue they prepared all year for this moment.
Ryan does have a knack for coming up big in these moments. He just hadn't done it in the playoffs. He hadn't gotten a playoff victory in his career, and with less than a minute left it looked like he would be ripped again for another loss. Atlanta had blown a 27-7 fourth-quarter lead.
Ryan got the drive going with a 22-yard pass to Harry Douglas to get to midfield. Atlanta called timeout with 18 seconds left. Then Ryan stood in the pocket against the blitz - running Jacquizz Rodgers gets the unsung hero award for a huge blitz pickup - and delivered to Tony Gonzalez over the middle for 19 more yards. There were 13 seconds left when Atlanta used its final timeout.
Quarterbacks don't have total control over their legacies when it comes to playoff wins and losses. Had Matt Bryant missed a 49-yard field goal, Ryan's final drive wouldn't be talked about. It would just be another bad home loss, another sign of his inability to win the big one. But Bryant drilled the kick, Atlanta held on for a 30-28 victory and will host the NFC Championship Game next week.
Ryan was great on his final two throws of the game. Even though Atlanta was chided for having a bit overinflated record for all of those close wins against mediocre teams, those repetitions paid off in the final minute against the Seahawks. When the situation was at its most intense, Ryan looked very calm and comfortable. And now he finally has a playoff win.
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