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NFL Playoffs: Falcons survive; Patriots cruise into final four

AtlantFalcons kicker Matt Bryant (3) reacts after kicking game-winning field goal against Seattle Seahawks during second half an NFC divisional

Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant (3) reacts after kicking the game-winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, in Atlanta. The Falcons won 30-28. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Updated: February 15, 2013 6:24AM



ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons called on a pair of Matty Ices to turn back the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history.

After the top-seeded Falcons squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan completed two long passes and Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds to give Atlanta a stunning 30-28 victory over Russell Wilson and the gutty Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday.

The Falcons (14-3) overcame their reputation for choking in the playoffs, winning their first postseason game since 2004. They’ll host San Francisco in the NFC championship game next Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, doing all he could to make the Seahawks (12-6) the first playoff team ever to rally from such a daunting deficit in the final period. Marshawn Lynch appeared to have locked it up for Seattle when he scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left for a 28-27 lead.

But the Seahawks’ defense, which is one of the NFL’s best and had totally stymied the Falcons in the fourth, went to a softer coverage and got burned. The Falcons had just enough time to pull off a comeback of their own.

Ryan, shaking off the struggles in his first three playoff appearances, hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and coach Mike Smith quickly signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the middle to his favorite target, tight end Tony Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could’ve been his final game.

Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the field goal try.

The Seahawks called time just before the ball was snapped, and Bryant’s kick sailed right of the upright. That turned out to be nothing more than practice. The next one was right down the middle, giving the Falcons a stunning win. Bryant took off toward the Falcons logo in the middle of the field, pumping his right fist before he was mobbed by his teammates.

“Wow,” Smith said.

Wilson finished with 385 yards passing and did all he could to lead the Seahawks back from a 27-7 deficit entering the final quarter.

Patriots 41, Texans 28: At Foxborough, Mass., Tom Brady became the winningest quarterback in postseason play, throwing for three touchdowns Sunday to beat Houston 41-28 and lift the New England Patriots into the AFC championship game. Brady got his 17th victory, surpassing his childhood hero, Joe Montana, by throwing for 344 yards. Seldom-used running back Shane Vereen scored three times, twice on receptions.

If Brady can lead the Patriots (13-4) past Baltimore (12-6) in next Sunday’s conference title game, then win the Super Bowl, he’ll equal the 49ers’ Hall of Famer for NFL championships.

The Patriots and Ravens are meeting for the AFC title for the second straight year. Baltimore, which stunned top-seeded Denver in double overtime Saturday, lost 23-20 at Gillette Stadium last January.



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