The matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6 was highly anticipated for a number of reasons. Both teams went into the game with only one loss. It featured the No. 1 defense facing off against the top offense in the NFL, and it was also a clash between Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and his former boss and mentor, Pete Carroll.
This game, which the Seahawks won by a narrow 26-24 margin, was one of few games in this NFL season that not only lived up to expectations, but exceeded them. Unlike the generally terrible slate of nationally televised games we’ve seen so far this season, it was entertaining from start to finish.
Richard Sherman vs. Julio Jones
The Falcons’ offense against the Seahawks’ defense, and particularly Sherman on Jones, was the most important matchup going into this game. It did not disappoint.
Atlanta schemed around Sherman to force him out of covering Jones, putting Jones in the slot to draw different matchups. It worked: Jones had seven catches for 139 yards and this touchdown — where he took advantage of blown coverage by Kelcie McCray, who was filling in for injured safety Kam Chancellor — to score.
Sherman wasn’t happy about this. He blew up on the sideline, making his displeasure known to Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard (and anyone who happened to be watching the broadcast). Sherman slammed his helmet on the ground and got in Richard’s face, and the confrontation was so heated that Carroll had to intervene.
But Sherman wasn’t done. He then yelled at his teammates, forehead veins bulging with rage, until they surrounded him and jumped around to cheer him up. Still, Sherman remained frustrated throughout the game.
After the win, Sherman didn’t give much credit to Atlanta’s offense for their performance.
“It was a blown coverage, and we should never give them points when we could've stopped them and held them to nothing,” Sherman said, via ESPN’s Sheil Kapedia. “They scored on blown coverages. The one [Mohamed] Sanu caught was a great play, but the other two were blown coverages."
Sherman was referring, of course, to another element of this game that made it so fun — the three unanswered touchdowns the Falcons scored in the third quarter.
Atlanta’s second-half comeback
Atlanta’s high-powered offense was quiet throughout the first half, scoring only once on a Matt Bryant field goal. The Seahawks’ defense shut them down entirely otherwise. They limited the Falcons’ dynamic running back duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman to just 50 yards combined, and kept Atlanta out of the end zone until the third quarter.
But in the third quarter, Atlanta played like the offense that had won four straight games. The Seahawks struggled to adapt to Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s decision to move Jones around the formation to force different coverage matchups Jones could exploit.
And he did exploit those matchups: 115 of Jones’ total yards against the Seahawks came in the third quarter.
Matt Ryan had three passing touchdowns in the third quarter. The Seahawks, until that time, had given up one passing touchdown total this season.
The Seahawks carried a 17-3 lead into halftime, but the Falcons looked like a totally different team in that third quarter. They came surging back, taking a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter of this game was, to put it mildly, absolutely wild. The Falcons held a lead, and the Falcons had the benefit of a missed field goal and a blocked PAT against Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka. Winning on the road is difficult, anyway, and winning at CenturyLink Field is especially hard for away teams. It looked like the Falcons had a shot to actually make it happen.
Atlanta’s defense kept the Seahawks out of the end zone early and managed to hold Seattle to a field goal attempt, which sailed wide left. The Falcons’ seven-point lead was safe.
With just under five minutes remaining in the game, though, Seattle found the end zone, pulling within one point of Atlanta. The Falcons blocked Hauschka’s PAT attempt, preserving a lead for the Falcons, albeit a narrow, one-point advantage.
All the Falcons had to do was just avoid mistakes — and they didn’t. A Ryan pass intended for Jones was tipped by Sherman and intercepted by Earl Thomas, and when the Seahawks’ offense took over, they capitalized. This fourth quarter certainly wasn’t Hauscka’s finest 15 minutes of football, but he did come through with a field goal with just under two minutes left to play. The Seahawks led by two, so all the Falcons had to do was get into field goal range.
Then this happened on a crucial fourth down.
Some people are outraged about this non-call. The NFL’s former head of officiating, Mike Pereira, says it was obvious pass interference. Others think this is a situation where, especially in a late-game situation, the refs made the right call to just let the players play.
"Sherm's hand was on his arm. That happens all the time,” Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle. “That's not a big deal at all."
No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it was a thrilling ending and we’re all still talking about it this morning.
After the game: tempers are still flaring
Sherman wasn’t the only player who lost his temper on Sunday. Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who left the game with a knee injury after a block by Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews, had plenty to say about Matthews and the Falcons after the game.
“To me it’s a scary, (expletive) move,” Bennett said, according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “Honestly, I think if you dive at someone else’s legs, you’re a little (expletive). If you are big in the NFL, you just line up and play — why you got to cut someone on the (expletive) play? I mean, I don’t know. That (expletive) is just stupid to me. Why cut somebody when you can just line up and win? I don’t know. I don’t come off the ball jumping at offensive linemen’s legs.’’
Bennett left the game with the injury, but initial tests indicated that it was minor and he is expected to be ready to go next week.
Falcons players weren’t happy about the way the team lost, either. Jones said after the game that he believed he had been interfered with on Atlanta’s last offensive play.
“Before I took off, he grabbed my right side and spun me around before I jumped up,” Jones said. “It was just a missed call.”
Sherman pointed out that there may have been some blown interference calls that worked in Atlanta’s favor, too.
“I thought there was interference on our offense on a few plays,” Sherman said.
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There’s no question that, after a game that was this close and got this heated, the Falcons and Seahawks would be eager for a rematch in the playoffs.
After the loss, the Falcons sit at 4-2, and they hold a two-game lead over the next-closest team in the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The division is Atlanta’s to lose, and considering the way the offense has played, the postseason appears to be within reach for the Falcons this season.
The Seahawks have been a fixture in the playoffs over the past few seasons, making the postseason in each of the past four years. They’re currently up 1 1⁄2 games in the NFC West, a division where the 49ers and Cardinals are floundering, and the Rams are unlikely to make much of a push. So, there’s a chance we’ll have the pleasure of a watching Seahawks-Falcons: Part 2.
That would be good news for any football fan, because Sunday’s matchup reminded us how fun the NFL can be. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that Seattle and Atlanta will face off again in January.