Reviewing October’s epic Falcons-Seahawks game

It was two games in one, two games that spawned one careening end. Both sides walked away feeling they’d won. More than a few folks left CenturyLink Field that damp Sunday believing these teams would see each other again. Sure enough …

The Seahawks beat the Falcons 26-24 in Seattle on Oct. 16. With Round 2 nearly upon us, we review Round 1, which Andy Benoit of SI.com dubbed the Game of the Year.

First half. The Seahawks made two first downs and punted. The Falcons did likewise. The Seahawks then got lucky: Russell Wilson fumbled while being sacked by Desmond Trufant on a corner blitz; Seattle guard Mike Glowinski recovered. On third-and-18, C.J. Spiller fumbled after being hit by Brooks Reed; Spiller recovered. A holding penalty by Brian Poole on the ensuing punt pushed the Falcons to their 9, where they would be unlucky.

On third down, Cliff Avril — beating Ryan Schraeder to the outside — knocked the ball from Matt Ryan’s hand. Tony McDaniel recovered at the 9. On Seattle’s first snap, tackle Garry Gilliam sealed Reed outside and guard Germain Ifedi tagged both safeties, first Keanu Neal and then Ricardo Allen. Christine Michael scored from 9 yards out.

A second-down sack of Ryan by Jarran Reed snuffed the Falcons’ next possession. Seattle went three-and-out. The Falcons moved across midfield on two Mohamed Sanu receptions and a Tevin Coleman run. The Falcons converted on Ryan’s fourth-and-1 sneak. Two catches by Julio Jones, both while being covered by Richard Sherman, brought the Falcons to the Seattle 15. Three incomplete passes later, Matt Bryant kicked a 33-yard field goal.

Seattle responded with a deft drive. Tight end Jimmy Graham caught two passes. Michael fumbled after a hit by Neal but recovered. Spiller turned a short pass into a 24-yard gain. On first-and-goal from the 2, Alex Collins barged over right guard to score, Grady Jarrett having missed him in the backfield. Seattle led 14-3.

Schraeder’s false start on the Falcons’ next snap led to an awful series: Devonta Freeman lost a yard, then was tackled after a catch for minus-5. By the time Matt Bosher punted, it was fourth-and-20. Graham’s 25-yard reception put Seattle in position to render this a blowout, but the Falcons stiffened. Steven Hauschka’s 42-yard field goal made the score 17-3 with 46 seconds left in the half, which ended after a holding penalty on Levine Toilolo negated a 22-yard Jones reception that would have taken the Falcons beyond midfield.

The Falcons, who entered with the NFL’s No. 1 offense, were outgained 169 yards to 86. They were penalized five times. Seattle fumbled three times but recovered them all. The Falcons fumbled once and saw it lead to the game’s first touchdown. Ryan was sacked three times. Jones was targeted only twice. That would change.

Second half. The Falcons took the kickoff and became a team reborn. Ryan found Jones for 15 yards to the Seattle 36, then for 30 and a touchdown. Stationed in the slot, Jones ran past strong safety Kelcie McCray, playing in place of the injured Kam Chancellor, with free safety Earl Thomas arriving too late. Cornerback Richard Sherman, who moved off Jones to cover tight end Austin Hooper on the outside, threw a sideline tantrum over what he would call "a miscommunication."

The Seahawks went three-and-out. Jones caught passes on the Falcons’ next two plays — for 24 and 16 yards, the second coming against Sherman. On second-and-goal from the 10, Ryan found Sanu, who found a bubble in the Seattle zone, in the left flat for a touchdown. The score was tied, though not for long.

Seattle made one first down before punting. The Falcons started at their 3. Jake Matthews was penalized for holding on the first snap. The rest was precision: Catches by Jacob Tamme, then Justin Hardy, then Jones again (not against Sherman), then Aldrick Robinson, then a run by Freeman, then a 46-yard touchdown pass to an unencumbered Toilolo. Seattle’s vaunted Cover-3 was covering nobody. The Falcons led 24-17. They’d gained 252 yards and scored 21 points in 15 minutes.

The famous 12th Man had been silenced except for grumbling, which increased when Hauschka’s field-goal try from 29 yards was wide left. But the Falcons’ offense went silent again: Ryan was sacked by Cassius Marsh. The Seahawks took the ball at their 30 with 8:34 remaining. Wilson completed four short passes. Robert Alford was flagged for interference against Jermaine Kearse, giving Seattle a first-and-goal at the 3. One play later, Michael scored. The game, however, remained untied. Ra’Shede Hageman blocked Hauschka’s PAT.

With a chance to kill the game, the Falcons gave the ball away. Ryan’s pass for Jones glanced off the receiver’s hands and then off Sherman and then to Thomas. The game-winning drive didn’t amount to much, Wilson hitting Collins for nine yards on third-and-3. With 1:57 remaining, Hauschka’s 44-yarder put Seattle ahead.

The Falcons’ final fling yielded four incomplete passes. The fourth will live long in Atlanta infamy. Under pressure from Reed, Ryan threw long for Jones down the left hashmark. He was covered by Sherman and Thomas. Three of the sport’s best players rose for the ball, though Jones didn’t rise far. Sherman grabbed his left shoulder. No flag flew. Falcons coach Dan Quinn ripped off his cap and raged from the sideline, to no avail.

Both teams exited having felt they'd seen the other at its best — and also its worst. The Falcons outgained the Seahawks by 33 yards, but scored all their touchdowns in one quarter. That quarter might well have been the worst ever for a Seattle defense that, over the past five years, has been the NFL's finest. It took the Falcons a while to figure out how to get Jones the ball — station him in the slot — but Seattle eventually countered by, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times delineates, having Sherman stick with him wherever he went.

Some key players that day — Thomas, Trufant, Tamme, Shelby, Michael, Spiller — are hurt or have been cut. Since Oct. 16, the Falcons have been demonstrably better than the Seahawks, whom they nearly beat out there. This game’s here. This time the Falcons will do more than come close.