SEATTLE — Matt Ryan dissected the best defense in the NFL for 15 memorable minutes. Richard Sherman unloaded on his teammates with an intense sideline tirade rarely seen in public. And Russell Wilson led another fourth-quarter comeback.
Eventful would be one way to describe Seattle’s 26-24 win over Atlanta on Sunday.
But it was also validating. At this point of the season, the Falcons and Seahawks are clearly among the handful of contenders in the NFC.
Yes, both have flaws that were displayed at times in Seattle’s win. Both also showed they have the ability to overcome them.
“I like where our team identity is now, so badly that I want the identity to happen right away,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “It’s growing stronger, that toughness, that resolve where we can attack in all three phases. That identity, I am pleased we are starting to become.”
That sounds like something Seattle coach Pete Carroll might say . But the Seahawks’ identity has been proven over time and was shown once again against the Falcons. Wilson led Seattle on a 70-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter to pull within 24-23. Then it was Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas teaming up to intercept a pass that slipped through Julio Jones’ fingers and set up Steven Hauschka’s 44-yard field goal that proved the game-winner.
The victory was Wilson’s 20th fourth quarter or overtime comeback. Seattle’s been down the path of being in close games in the fourth quarter against good teams and finding a way to pull out a win beginning in Wilson’s rookie season. Sunday was the second time in five games this season Wilson led the Seahawks to a go-ahead score in the final 2 minutes.
That would seem to be the next step for the Falcons to learn.
“We had a really nice first half. Then came back when we needed to in the fourth quarter to get the stops we needed to get it done, and we made the one kick we needed to make,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “Very difficult game. Dan’s team is playing like crazy. They were hard to beat today.”
Here’s what else to know from Seattle’s victory:
RIPPING RYAN: Ryan’s third quarter was stunning. He was 13 of 17 for 220 yards and three TDs. Ryan found Jones for a 36-yard score on the first drive of the second half; found Mohamed Sanu on a 10-yard TD; and later connected with Levine Toilolo on a 46-yarder as the Falcons rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to lead 24-17 going to the fourth quarter.
“They started making catches, started making deep throws and they made some good plays you have to give them that. That’s a real good team over there,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
HERE’S JIMMY (AGAIN): Jimmy Graham continues to show his importance to Seattle’s offense.
Graham finished with six catches for 89 yards, his third straight game with six receptions. He nearly became the first player in team history to top 100 yards receiving in three straight games, but fell just short.
It’s the first time Graham has caught five or more passes in three straight games since early in the 2014 season, when he was still in New Orleans. And he has discovered a rhythm with Wilson that hasn’t required the throws to be forced.
“He just believes it. He puts that back foot in the ground and just lets it go,” Graham said. “It’s just going to get better and better for the whole offense, for all of us.”
RUNNING NOWHERE: While Ryan had a big day throwing the ball, Atlanta’s run game had no success.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 52 yards rushing and averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. Freeman had 40 yards on 12 carries, but that included an 18-yard run.
Perhaps more important, Seattle didn’t allow the duo to be part of the passing game. Freeman had three catches for 10 yards and Coleman one reception for 7 yards. A week ago, Coleman had four catches for 132 yards and a touchdown against Denver.
NO FLAG: Atlanta probably has a right to be upset with the decision not to flag Sherman for pass interference on its final offensive play. Replays showed Sherman clearly pulling at Jones’ arm on the deep throw before the ball arrived. The Falcons sideline screamed begging for a call, but no flag ever appeared.
Sherman did not believe he got away with one.
“No. I felt like we won the ballgame,” he said.