Playoffs  

 

Atlanta Falcons prevail in astounding divisional-round weekend

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff stood on the sideline near the 10-yard marker, looking as tense as a shaken can of soda despite his hip suit, a far cry from the cool vibe he otherwise emanates on the average day.

His eyes followed the football toward the uprights, and when a 49-yard attempt by Falcons kicker Matt Bryant cleared the goal post, Dimitroff exploded as if that can of soda had been thrown against a brick wall.

His feet left the ground, chasing his arms toward the sky, until his mind quickly caught up. Then, almost bashful about his instinctive reaction to a 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks (Dimitroff's first playoff victory as Atlanta's general manager), he straightened his jacket, calmed himself down and walked toward the Falcons bench.

Don't worry, Dimitroff. Thousands of others, even those with no rooting interest, were doing the exact same thing. How could anyone bottle their emotions after a game like that? How could anyone, during an epic two days of football, manage to not celebrate the awesomeness of this sport?

With all due respect to the Seahawks and Broncos, two teams that battled with the ferocity of true playoff contenders, this was one fun NFL weekend.

"I think the one thing that I've learned in my five years, and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "I mean, it is difficult to do."

On NFL Network
"NFL Replay" will re-air the Falcons' 30-28 divisional playoff win over the Seahawks on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

» Can't wait? Watch it now on Game Rewind
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Beyond just the moments -- beyond just the fantastic football that included a double-overtime game between the Ravens and Broncos and an unreal, 20-point comeback by the Seahawks -- these games were stocked with storylines.

Wonder why Dimitroff exploded as he did? Why Ryan suggests he knows better than anyone how difficult it can be to win in the postseason? Why tight end Tony Gonzalez, who once again defied age with key catches Sunday, cried on the ground after the Falcons scored the game-winning field goal?

Well, that goes beyond just the moment. After all, Dimitroff, Ryan and Falcons head coach Mike Smith had never won a playoff game since arriving in Atlanta in 2008, losing their first three postseason affairs. And Gonzalez, a longtime veteran who started his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, had yet to win a playoff game in a much longer span than that.

Couple that with a 20-point collapse -- as Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson suffocated an entire stadium with his insanely poised play -- and you're talking about a Falcons sideline that felt all of it once again slipping away.

"When you have that type of lead going into the fourth quarter, you're supposed to win the game," Gonzalez said. "And we couldn't hang on. I figured it just wasn't meant to be. You start to rationalize; maybe it's just not going to happen. But that's why emotionally, when he kicked that field goal, and it went through the uprights, I was on the ground crying like a little baby. I kissed the earth. I couldn't believe it."

This is what makes this game great, isn't it? When someone like Gonzalez, who has been good to the game for all of these years, finally accepts his fate as a postseason loser ... only to have it all spin into a career that could end with a Super Bowl appearance if his team can just sneak out one more massive win next week.

"You tell yourself it just wasn't meant to be," Gonzalez said about his lack of playoff success. "You try to look at the spiritual side of things. And you try to have acceptance. But I'll tell you what, it's better to get the victory, to get that playoff monkey off my back. Hopefully, it's onto bigger and better things. We still have some goals to accomplish."

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Yes, that's right. Still goals to accomplish -- which is the very reason the Falcons tried to publicly collect themselves Sunday following this incredibly dramatic win. This wasn't the Super Bowl, and they all knew as much. But it was a massive moment, made clear by their instincts in the wake of victory.

Where do the Falcons go from here? What happens to the Ravens after their own inspirational win? Well, both teams will advance to their respective conference championships after two games that surely aged many Americans. They will enjoy the glow of this weekend, and then they will move on.

So go ahead, Dimitroff. Wrinkle your suit. Jump out of your shoes. Then, straighten up your jacket and go back to being cool. Because if we learned anything from a thrilling divisional round, the lesson is quite simple: Nobody knows what could possibly happen next.

"It wasn't just about one person, period," Gonzalez said. "It wasn't about Matt. It wasn't about me. Or (Smith). Or Dimitroff. It was about all of us getting a victory. As I told everybody as soon as we won, it's not over yet.

"We still have goals."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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