If you want to learn patience, be a Falcons fan.
You didn’t dare leave a minute early Sunday, lest you’d miss the Falcons’ frenzied, roller-coaster ride that resulted in a 30-28 playoff victory over the Seahawks.
You couldn’t even leave before the final play. Not until Julio Jones — yes, Julio Jones — came down with his first career interception, in the end zone, after time had expired, could the Falcons relax.
And so ended the five year wait for that elusive first playoff win to validate the Thomas Dimitroff-Mike Smith era.
Five year wait? Please.
True Falcons fans have been waiting forever. Or at least since 1966. For things like winning a Super Bowl. Or hosting the NFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history.
This is a team, mind you, that made its fans wait two-and-a-half months for its first victory. They began their inaugural season 0-9.
It took 13 seasons for the Falcons to win their first playoff game. And then, incredibly, it took 13 more seasons for them to win their second.
Things have been so rosy of late that we’ve almost forgotten that it took this franchise 44 seasons to notch back-to-back winning records.
So, for Falcon fans, this five year wait was nothing, really. The eight-year wait since the last playoff win? Much more in keeping with Falcon lore.
Ah, but if you’ve stuck patiently with the Falcons through the years, when you arrive at one of those shining victories that rewards your patience, all the agony makes it all the better. The beauty of being emotionally invested with a team comes when that team finally delivers a glorious moment of seashells and balloons.
And if you couldn’t sort through the maze of events that led to Sunday’s result, it was all quite simple. Smitty and his quarterback were right all along.
During the week, both observed that they had learned something useful from their past playoff failures. Every playoff game seems to come down to four or five crucial plays. The outcome is usually determined by who makes those plays.
Sunday? No different. The first key play occurred with 5:40 left in the first half and the Falcons leading, 13-0. After their first successful drive of the day, the Seahawks were fourth-and-one on the Falcons’ 11-yard line.
Coach Pete Carroll disdained the field goal. Instead, Seattle ran Mike Robinson —right into William Moore, for a one yard loss. "I saw them run this play on film," Moore told Ray Glier of the USA Today. "As soon as the tight end stood up, I was through the gap."
He decked Robinson before Robinson could get going. "If I could have taken another rotation with my legs, I would have had enough power," Robinson told Glier.
Instead, Michael Turner ran twice for 36 yards, and then Matt Ryan threw a gorgeous, 47-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White for a 20-0 lead.
Minutes later, Seattle again found itself on the Falcons’ 11-yard line. On third-and-goal, Jonathan Babineaux tore past left guard J. R. Sweezy and managed a rare takedown of quarterback Russell Wilson. The half ended before Seattle could run another play.
Having those six points on the board clearly would have made a huge difference when Seattle began its relentless second half comeback.
The final three plays came at the end of the game. The historians among us knew the Falcons, with 31 seconds and two timeouts left, had plenty of time to reclaim their lead. Not likely, but possible.
Incredibly, the first play went to Harry Douglas, who in the third quarter demonstrated again why he is the team’s third wide receiver. But on this play, Douglas was the first option, and he came through with a big catch by the sideline as Brandon Browder hit him from behind. Gaining 22 yards to midfield, Douglas’ second catch of the day was the biggest of his career.
Tony Gonzalez followed with a 19-yard catch right up the seam. The future Hall of Famer also made the biggest catch of his career, but the key to the play was Jacquizz Rodgers.
Seattle brought five rushers on the play. Rodgers, on the left, saw the extra rusher coming free — from the right side. He crossed in front of Ryan, and applied the block that enabled the pass to be delivered.
That left things up to kicker Matt Bryant, who executed his 49-yard field goal perfectly.
Bryant had waited patiently his entire 11-year career to deliver a game-winning kick in the playoffs. The perfect union of player and team.