The Falcons reached the NFC title game after the 1998 and 2004 seasons, but will host in Atlanta for the first time. A victory over the 49ers, who routed Green Bay 45-31 on Saturday, and the franchise will earn its second trip to the Super Bowl.
Like he has during his five seasons, Ryan, who was having a shaky game, played his best when it mattered the most.
Gonzalez, the future hall of famer, who had a stellar game and set up the up the winning kick with a 19-yard reception broke into tears on the sidelines. He embraced tight ends coach Chris Scelfo along the sidelines after the kick sailed through the uprights.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am for Tony Gonzalez personally,” Smith said. “He just did what he’d done his entire career. He went out and played the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Gonzalez, who finished with six catches for 51 yards, was 0-5 in playoff games. He experienced playoff heartbreak with the Falcons after the 2010 season and last season. His previous losses were during his days with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Emotionally, when you are low and think maybe it’s over like that, you think man it’s going to be tough,” said Gonzalez, who remains 95 percent certain that he’ll retire after this season. “We pulled it out and were able to get it done. When you get it done, it’s just emotional. It brings it out inside of you.”
Bryant missed his first attempt at the 49-yarder, but it came after Seattle coach Pete Carroll called for a timeout.
“I messed up on my timing thing,” Bryant said. “We were doing something a little bit different. It was good for them to call the timeout. That kick was over and done with. It was time to move on to the next one.”
Bryant was making field goals from beyond 60 yards outdoors in practice with ease Thursday, so he wasn’t worried about the distance.
He just had to work out his timing mechanism. The second boot sailed high and through the uprights.
“That’s part of the job description,” Bryant said. “You have to come in and make some kicks when you have to.”
The Falcons had to pick themselves up after the Seahawks rallied to take the lead.
“I went down the line to the offensive side of the bench and I told everybody that we’ve done this before,” Bryant said. “There was nothing that we hadn’t seen before. Just go out there and do our thing and we’ll be all right.”
Ryan can add this win to his growing list of fourth-quarter comebacks. It was his sixth of this season and the 22nd of his career.
This comeback was on par with the rally against Carolina this season when the Falcons had the ball on their 1-yard line with just 59 seconds to play and the one Ryan pulled out in the final 11 seconds over Chicago in his rookie season.
This time he did it in the postseason to shake free from previous playoff defeats to Arizona, Green Bay and the New York Giants. Now, his critics can’t say that his “Matty Ice Magic” doesn’t work in the playoffs.
“Your past experiences kind of harden you,” Ryan said. “They make you a little tougher in those types of situations. We know it’s a tough thing to do; it’s difficult to win in the NFL this time of the year because you’re playing against the best teams in the league.
The Falcons dominated the first half with some strong play from the offensive line and a staunch and nasty defense to open a 20-0 lead.
The teams exchanged touchdown drives in the third quarter and the Falcons led 27-7 before things started going sideways for them.
Seattle’s fine rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was scrambling around and picking the secondary apart.
Despite his heroics, he left too much time for the Falcons.