ATLANTA - First it was agonizing.
Then it was incredible.
But ultimately, it was nothing short of absolutely excruciating for Seattle.
The Seahawks were seconds away from matching the largest comeback in franchise history. Seconds from winning a game they trailed by 20 points when the fourth quarter began. Seconds from advancing to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday in San Francisco.
But two completions by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and one 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with eight seconds left gave Atlanta a 30-28 victory in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
It’s the fourth time in seven seasons the Seahawks have exited in the second round of the playoffs.
The Seahawks didn’t run out of time on Sunday, they left too much of it, as Marshawn Lynch scored the go-ahead touchdown with 31 seconds remaining to cap Seattle’s run of 21 consecutive points and complete a comeback that was nothing short of jaw-dropping.
The Seahawks trailed 20-0 at halftime, were still down 20 going into the fourth quarter and didn’t force Atlanta to punt until there were fewer than eight minutes left in the game.
But the Seahawks’ finish had the country buzzing.
You couldn’t blame Atlanta for suffering from whiplash after the way the Seahawks spun this game around.
The Seahawks were down 27-7 when the fourth quarter started. But just when it seemed like the Seahawks were cooked, they served up a finish that kept their season from ending.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson completed the first 10 passes he threw in the second half, including two for touchdowns. He threw for 385 yards, not only his season high, but the most by an NFL rookie in the playoffs. Tight end Zach Miller-who had never had more than 59 yards receiving in any game as a Seahawk-caught passes for more yards (142) than any Seahawk in any game in postseason history.
And if you thought last week’s comeback from a 14-point deficit at Washington was something, well, you hadn’t seen anything yet.
Seattle scored a touchdown on four of its final six possessions of the game, tallying 21 unanswered points to take the lead, 28-27.
And just when it looked like Atlanta was going to lose its first game of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under coach Mike Smith, Ryan completed a 22-yard pass to Harry Douglas and then a 19-yard throw to tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The Falcons kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play. Seattle was able to run two plays on the ensuing possession, but Wilson’s final pass was picked off in the end zone by Atlanta receiver Julio Jones, who was inserted to defend against the Hail Mary.
And Atlanta’s last-minute comeback changed the focus from what Seattle did in coming back to what it could have done had it not wasted two first-half scoring opportunities.
Seattle had the ball inside the Atlanta 20 twice in the first half yet failed to score. Fullback Michael Robinson was stopped on fourth-and-1, resulting in a turnover on downs, and then Seattle gave up a third-down sack at the end of the first half, with time expiring before the Seahawks could get set for a final play.