The Atlanta Falcons narrowly avoided the worst fourth-quarter collapse in NFL history, edging the Seattle Seahawks 30-28 on a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal with just 8 seconds remaining. The top-seeded Falcons will host the No. 2 San Francisco 49ers next week in the NFC Championship Game.
Atlanta played a very clean game offensively for three quarters, then self-destructed in the final frame. But Gonzalez was a constant throughout, making a number of contested catches to keep drives alive. He made one of his trademark tip-toes for a touchdown in the first quarter. And when the Falcons needed one more play to get in field-goal range late in the game, Gonzalez found the hole in the Seahawks' zone and sat down in it.
It's not a flashy play, but it perfectly sums up the quiet professionalism of Gonzalez and this Falcons team. That play, and the field goal that followed, helped Atlanta avoid an almost unimaginably difficult offseason of questions.
"After 16 games, never winning a playoff game, I've never cried after a win," Gonzalez told Fox after the game. "I was thinking, 'Here it goes it again. I guess it wasn't meant to be.' I'm just so proud of our guys."
It's almost hard to believe the Falcons were in the position to lose. The Seahawks trailed 27-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Teams trailing by 20 or more points entering the final frame of a playoff game were 0-83 before Sunday. It nearly became 1-83 after Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown to enable the Seahawks to take the lead with 31 seconds remaining.
Atlanta, so dominant offensively all afternoon, started to misfire in the fourth quarter. Ryan threw an awful interception, followed by a three-and-out and another quick punt. The Falcons' defense, which forced just three punts all day, absolutely had no answer for the Seahawks' passing game after halftime, giving up four touchdown drives.
It looked for all the world that we'd be writing about the most painful Falcons loss of them all. Even they thought it was coming.
"I'd by lying to you if I thought we were going to be able to pull that one out, but I'm so glad we did," Gonzalez said. "I was thinking: 'This is it. I'm going out after a heartbreaking loss.' "
The rest of America felt the same, Tony. But Ryan came up with two great throws when he absolutely needed them. Ryan knew just who to look for with the game on the line.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.