Falcons emerge over Seahawks in classic style

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Falcons emerge over Seahawks in classic style

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Matt Bryant pumped his fist and celebrated atop the Falcons logo in the middle of the field. Tony Gonzalez broke down in tears. Matt Ryan relished the thought of not having to answer a familiar question.The Atlanta Falcons finally showed they could win a playoff game.And, wow, what a game it was!After a meltdown in the fourth quarter, the Falcons pulled off a comeback that will long be remembered in championship-starved Atlanta. Ryan completed two long passes and Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining, lifting the NFC's top seed to a stunning 30-28 victory over Russell Wilson and the gutty Seattle Seahawks in a divisional game Sunday."Wow!" said Falcons coach Mike Smith, summing up this classic as well as anyone could.Atlanta (14-3) squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, falling behind for the first time all day when Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left and Ryan Longwell knocked through the extra point for a 28-27 lead.No team has ever won a playoff game when facing such a daunting deficit in the final period.The Falcons, thanks to a pair of Matty Ices -- Ryan and Bryant -- didn't become the first.Ryan, shaking off his struggles in three previous playoff losses and two interceptions against the Seahawks, hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and Smith quickly signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the middle to his favorite target Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could've been his final game.Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the field goal try.The Seahawks called time just before the ball was snapped, and Bryant's kick sailed right of the upright. That turned out to be nothing more than practice. The next one was right down the middle as Bryant took off in the other direction, pumping his fist before he was mobbed by his teammates."Our quarterback is a special player," Smith said. "They call him Matty Ice, but I feel like we've got two Matty Ices. There's Matty Ice Ryan and Matty Ice Bryant."The Falcons overcame their reputation for choking in the playoffs, winning their first postseason game since the 2004 season. They'll host San Francisco in the NFC championship game next Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line."Nobody flinched," Ryan said. "We just kept battling, kept doing what we do. That's been the makeup of our team all season."Bryant knocked through his third game-winning kick of the season. But he'd never made one like this, with so much on the line."When they scored their touchdown, I walked down (the sideline)," he said. "I told the offensive line, I told Matt (Ryan), I told all the receivers, We've done this before.'"Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, doing all he could to pull off the most improbable of comebacks for the Seahawks (12-6). But the Seattle defense, which is one of the NFL's best and had totally stymied the Falcons in the fourth quarter, went to a softer coverage and got burned.Atlanta had just enough time to pull off a comeback of its own."We had high, high hopes for the rest of the season," Wilson said. "When the game was over, I was very disappointed. But walking back into the tunnel, I got so excited about next year. The resilience we showed was unbelievable."Wilson finished with 385 yards passing as the Seahawks wiped out a 27-7 deficit entering the final quarter. When Lynch powered over, the ball breaking the goal line just before it squirted from his arms, Seattle celebrated like it had won its second straight playoff game on the road, having already taken care of Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.According to STATS, it would've been the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history.Not so fast.Ryan led the Falcons back, wiping out his 0-3 mark in the playoffs, including a crushing loss to Green Bay two years ago when the Falcons were in the same position, the NFC's top-seeded team with home-field advantage in the playoffs."The one thing I've learned during my five years in the league, and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard," Ryan said.Now, he'll no longer be asked why he can't win in the playoffs."That's going to be nice," Ryan conceded. "But our goal is not to win one playoff game. Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has."Wilson's last throw, a desperation heave into the end zone, was intercepted by Falcons receiver Julio Jones.Gonzalez, who had never won a playoff game in his 16-year career, broke down in tears after Bryant's kick went through the uprights."I've never cried after a win," said Gonzalez, who has stated repeatedly that he's "95 percent" sure this is his final year. "I was thinking, Here we go again. I guess it wasn't meant to be.'"It was.The Falcons finally lived up to their excellence during the regular season since Smith, Ryan and general manager Thomas Dimitroff took over in 2008, instantly reviving a franchise that seemed down and out after Michael Vick's dogfighting case. Atlanta has won 56 regular-season games over the last five years, more than any team except New England, but had a reputation for choking in the postseason.Check that off the list. Atlanta is one win away from the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.Ryan threw three touchdown passes, tying a Falcons playoff record, and finished 24 of 35 for 250 yards -- the first time he's eclipsed 200 yards in the postseason. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez, a 47-yarder to Roddy White and a 5-yarder to Jason Snelling, the latter with 2:11 left in the third quarter to give the Falcons a seemingly commanding lead.Wilson took over from there, running 1 yard for a touchdown to make it 27-14, then going to Zach Miller on a 3-yard touchdown pass that closed the gap to 27-21.Finally, taking over at his own 39 after an Atlanta punt, Wilson completed three passes for 50 yards, the last of them a short throw to Lynch that the bruising runner took all the way to the Falcons 3. The rookie quarterback made it all possible, spinning away from blitzing Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to keep the play alive.The Seahawks, though, will spend the offseason kicking themselves for that last Falcons' drive, and for squandering two scoring chances in the first half.On fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 11, Seattle passed on a field goal and a chance to give the ball to Lynch, their beast of a back. Fullback Michael Robinson took the handoff and was stuffed for a 1-yard loss by safety William Moore.Then, with the clock winding down before halftime, Seattle used up all its timeouts and wound up regretting it when Wilson was sacked by Jonathan Babineaux at the Atlanta 20. Time ran out before the Seahawks could get off another play, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 20-0 lead.Bryant also connected on field goals of 37 and 39 yards in the first half."At halftime, we talked about how we can't get ahead right away. It's going to take a while," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It was an exquisite job of refocusing to a football game after being down like that."NOTES:The Falcons played the second half without defensive end John Abraham, who re-injured his ailing right ankle. No word whether he'll be able to play next week. ... The Falcons did a good job on Lynch, who was held to 46 yards on 16 carries. ... Atlanta got surprising production out of its maligned running game. Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards, Jacquizz Rodgers added 64 and the Falcons finished with a season-high 167 yards overall.

Isaiah Thomas continues to claim Celtics' franchise records

Isaiah Thomas continues to claim Celtics' franchise records

BOSTON – This continues to be a historic season for Isaiah Thomas as more records fell in Wednesday’s 103-100 loss to Milwaukee, and the company he’s keeping becomes even more exclusive. 

Thomas had a game-high 32 points on Wednesday which included five made 3’s on nine attempts. That gave him 223 for the season which is a new franchise single-season record for made 3-pointers. The previous record was 222 set by Antoine Walker during the 2001-2002 season.

And his 32 points scored gives him 2,012 this season. 

Only six players in franchise history (Paul Pierce was the last to do it during the 2005-2006 season) have scored 2,000 or more points in a single season. 

Oh, there’s more. 

With Wednesday being the 66th time this season he has had 20 or more points, Thomas has now tied Pierce (2005-2006) and Larry Bird (1985-1986; 1987-1988) for sixth on the Celtics’ single-season franchise list. 

“I didn’t even know that,” a visibly disappointed Thomas said following Wednesday’s loss. “It doesn’t feel that good right now. But when I look back on it, probably in the offseason, I’ll appreciate it a little more. But I’m just staying in the moment and try and play as best I can to lead this team to as many wins as possible.”

Other season milestones Thomas is in the mix for include the following:

  • The 5-foot-9 guard is one of three players this season to have 50 or more games of 25-plus points, joined by Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (57) and Houston’s James Harden (54).
  • Thomas has made at least one 3-pointer in a franchise-record 50 straight games (Dec. 3 – March 29). That’s also the longest current streak in the NBA. 
  • With 66 games of 20 or more points this season, Thomas is second in the NBA to Westbrook (67).

Marcus Smart at center of yet another controversial call

Marcus Smart at center of yet another controversial call

BOSTON – One of the more bizarre plays in Boston’s 103-100 loss to Milwaukee came in the second quarter, requiring some explanation from the officials afterwards. 

With 3:55 to play in the second quarter, the officials had originally called a foul on Marcus Smart which he verbally protested that eventually led to him being whistled for a technical foul. 

After the officials reviewed the play, they changed the call to a personal foul against Khris Middleton but no change to the called technical foul against Smart who objected to a call that, upon review, they agreed was the wrong call to make. 

Official Sean Corbin, through pool reporter Ken Powtak of the Associated Press, acknowledged that the original call was a loose ball foul against Smart. 

“The (officiating) crew got together, we met prior to video and we decided that we needed to look at video because both players were on the floor bleeding so we went to the video for a hostile act,” Corbin told Powtak. “In the review we noticed that Khris Middleton initially made contact to Marcus Smart’s face. That’s how the original contact to the play occurred.”

Fortunately for the Celtics, Middleton missed his technical free throw while Smart split a pair of free throws which cut Milwaukee’s lead to 49-40.

Still, that’s no consolation for Smart who was whistled for a technical foul on a play that the official acknowledged was the wrong call to make. 

In the fourth quarter, Smart was at the center of yet another controversial call that was also reviewed by the officials. The verdict wasn't nearly as good for Smart who was whistled for a flagrant foul after getting his feet tangled up with Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo who was called for a non-shooting foul in the play with 4:46 to play. 

Antetokounmpo made one of two free throws and on the Bucks' ensuing possession, he was called for traveling.

Smart was unavailable to talk after the game in part because the aforementioned incident left an abrasion to his mouth and, because of the technical foul, a little lighter in the wallet as well.