A dramatic field goal for the Atlanta Falcons ousted the Seattle Seahawks from the playoffs last season. Matt Ryan's recent play is a big reason why the potential for a postseason rematch is unlikely.
The Seahawks return to the Georgia Dome on Sunday looking to gain a measure of revenge and capitalize on Ryan's struggles while seriously damaging what's left of the Falcons' playoff hopes.
Seattle (8-1) seemed headed for the NFC championship game when Marshawn Lynch scored with 31 seconds left, but Ryan helped Atlanta get in position for Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds left to win 30-28.
The Seahawks had put together their own comeback, erasing a 20-point, second-half deficit, but they're looking for a much more complete performance this time.
"Understanding that we gotta come out fast and finish," linebacker Bobby Wagner told the team's official website. "We get another opportunity to play these guys. Last year they kicked us out of the playoffs, so you kinda get an opportunity to pay them back."
Seattle surely seems capable, owning the best record in the NFC behind a defense which ranks second with 296.0 yards allowed per game. The unit is also second in passing yards allowed (179.8) and is tied with Denver for the most interceptions at 13.
That may not bode well for Ryan, who has thrown seven picks and only two touchdowns in back-to-back losses for Atlanta (2-6). However, he's 3-0 against Seattle in his career - including playoffs - with seven scoring passes against three interceptions.
Ryan went 20 of 27 for 219 yards and a touchdown last weekend, but tossed three INTs with one returned for a touchdown in a 34-10 loss at Carolina.
"We've got to take care of the football," coach Mike Smith said. "Possession of the football is nine-tenths of the game. That's what you've got to do when you're on the offensive side of the ball.
"You have to possess the football, and it's not just the responsibility of the quarterback. It's the responsibility of everyone on the offensive side, including the coaches, in terms of making sure we take care of the ball."
Still, much of Atlanta's success rests on Ryan, who has five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 129.3 passer rating in the team's victories. He has 10 scores, 10 picks and an 81.9 rating in the defeats.
That's a key reason why the Falcons have been one of the NFL's biggest disappointments this season.
"I think everybody is disappointed with where we're at, there's no question about it," Ryan said. "I think there were high expectations for our football team coming into the year, but certainly things have not gone as we'd hoped.
"You've got to keep plugging away. You've got to keep working hard and try to find ways to make it better. I think that's what all of us are trying to do."
Ryan could get some help if wide receiver Roddy White is able to return from a knee injury, which has sidelined him for three games.
Production from the running game could also give Atlanta a boost. The Falcons are last in the league, averaging 64.4 yards with three TDs, but the Seahawks have given up at least 200 in each of the past two games.
"We understand that we've been struggling with the run a little bit, and I kind of take that personally because I'm the middle linebacker," Wagner said.
Seattle's ground game has been potent because of Lynch, who is second in the league with 726 yards while gaining 4.3 per carry with seven total touchdowns.
The star back ran for a season-high 125 yards on 21 carries last week, but 44 came on six rushes during a 51-yard drive that set up the winning field goal in a 27-24 overtime win over Tampa Bay.
Lynch, however, could be in for a tough test since center Max Unger (concussion) will be out. The team is already expected to be without tackles Russell Okung (foot) and Breno Giacomini (knee) for at least one more game.
The injuries on the line have likely contributed to Russell Wilson being among the most sacked quarterbacks in the NFL with 27.
Wilson, who was sacked twice by the Falcons in the playoffs, completed 24 of 36 passes for 385 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran seven times for 60 yards and another score.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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