January 2, 2012
The 2004 season-ending game on January 2, 2005 between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field featured two teams assured of spots in the postseason, but it still held significance for the home team. The Seahawks, in their sixth year under Head Coach Mike Holmgren, were 8-7 and had clinched a playoff spot the week before. However, if they lost and the Rams won, they would end up as a wild card team rather than a division champion with a home playoff game to open the postseason.
Seattle’s offense featured star RB Shaun Alexander and included QB Matt Hasselbeck, still a work in progress at age 29 and in his fourth year as a starter, and WR Darrell Jackson. Anchoring the offensive line were OT Walter Jones and G Steve Hutchinson on the left side. The defense was a problem area, having been diluted by injuries.
Atlanta, under first-year Head Coach Jim Mora Jr., had far less riding on the game. The Falcons were 11-4 and had the AFC South title wrapped up. They also had injured players, such as athletic QB Michael Vick, who needed a rest prior to the postseason. Despite being a West Coast offense, Atlanta featured its ground game, led by running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett – not to mention Vick, who could be quick to run with the ball. TE Alge Crumpler was his best receiver.
Following a short possession by the Seahawks to start the game, the Falcons showed that they took the contest seriously by blocking the ensuing punt. With Vick completing three passes and Dunn running for 12 yards, Atlanta went 48 yards in 12 plays and WR Peerless Price caught a two-yard touchdown pass to take an early 7-0 lead.
Seattle came right back as Alexander rushed for 24 yards in a six-play, 48-yard drive that ended with the star running back scoring from a yard out. Josh Brown’s conversion tied the contest at 7-7.
The teams traded punts as the game proceeded into the second quarter. The Falcons drove to the Seattle 10 yard line thanks to the running of Dunn (back-to-back carries of 14 and 26 yards to get the ball into Seahawks territory) and Vick’s throwing. Jay Feely kicked a 33-yard field goal to finish off the 10-play series and put the Falcons back in front at 10-7. The lead grew larger five plays later as Hasselbeck was intercepted by CB DeAngelo Hall, who returned it 48 yards for a TD.
Seattle bounced back as Hasselbeck immediately connected with WR Bobby Engram on the next play from scrimmage to get to midfield and capped a 66-yard drive with a three-yard scoring pass to Jackson.
When the Falcons returned on offense, Vick had been replaced by rookie backup QB Matt Schaub. While Coach Mora had vowed to treat the contest like a playoff game, Vick was nursing a hand injury and it made no sense to expose him any further. Still, Schaub gave notice of his ability by throwing for a 26-yard gain to WR Brian Finneran on his first pass. Atlanta came up empty on the series and there was no further scoring in the first half as the tally stood at 17-14 at the intermission.
The Falcons drove into Seattle territory to start the third quarter, but Schaub was intercepted by CB Marcus Trufant, who returned the pickoff 31 yards to the Atlanta 41 yard line. Hasselbeck completed six passes for 35 yards, including a scoring throw to TE Jerramy Stevens from three yards out. With the successful conversion, the Seahawks were back in front at 21-17.
It seemed as though Atlanta would narrow the score when T.J. Duckett dashed 35 yards up the middle to fuel an advance to the Seattle 21, but Feely missed a 39-yard field goal attempt. The Seahawks went three-and-out and the Falcons proceeded to put together a long, 15-play drive that stretched into the fourth quarter and covered 56 yards. Highlights included a six-yard Schaub completion to Price in a third-and-five situation and a 17-yard throw to the same receiver that moved the ball into Seattle territory. Feely ended the possession with another field goal attempt, and this time he was successful from 40 yards to make it a one-point game.
The Seahawks responded with a long drive of their own, going 60 yards in 10 plays. Hasselbeck had pass completions of eight yards to TE Ryan Hannam, 23 yards to Engram, and 11 to Stevens to get to the Atlanta 16, and Alexander ran for 15 yards on three carries to set up Hasselbeck’s one-yard scoring carry. It was 28-20 with 4:28 remaining on the clock.
That was enough time for the Falcons to put together a closing 15-play drive following CB Allen Rossum’s 23-yard kickoff return. Atlanta moved methodically down the field, converting two third downs, the first with Schaub carrying for eight yards on a third-and-one play. In a third-and-17 situation from the Seattle 28, Schaub completed a pass to Finneran for 16 yards and, following a timeout with 18 seconds left, the rookie quarterback out of Virginia completed a swing pass to FB Fred McCrary for a nine-yard gain on fourth-and-one. After a near-interception by CB Ken Lucas, Schaub was successful on a three-yard scoring toss to Finneran on a crossing pattern at the back of the end zone with no time remaining in regulation. That set up a two-point conversion attempt to try and tie the game and send it into overtime. However, the Seahawks held on for the 28-26 win when Schaub rolled to his left and gave the ball to Dunn on a counter play that barely came up short under a pile of Seattle defenders.
The Falcons had more total yards (354 to 253) and first downs (22 to 21), and of that yardage figure, 204 came on the ground (to 83 for the Seahawks). Atlanta drew far more penalties (8 for 53 yards to just one for five yards on Seattle). Each team turned the ball over once.
Matt Hasselbeck completed 21 of 27 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Shaun Alexander ran for 80 yards on 19 carries that included a TD. Bobby Engram (pictured below) was the team’s top receiver with 6 catches for 79 yards.
For Atlanta, Michael Vick was successful on 6 of 7 throws for 35 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game. Matt Schaub went to the air 22 times and completed 14 for 133 yards with a TD and one picked off. Warrick Dunn was outstanding with 132 yards on 25 carries and three receptions for 20 more. Peerless Price pulled in 7 passes for 46 yards and a TD and Brian Finneran gained 45 yards on his 3 catches that included a score. Of the seven sacks the teams combined for (four by the Falcons, three by Seattle), DT Roderick Coleman accounted for two.
“I knew I wasn't in,” Dunn said of his run on the two-point conversion attempt at the end. “It was just one of those plays that we thought was going to be there and it wasn't. They played it well. I was trying to squeeze myself into a small crack and get in.”
“To come up short like we did is not acceptable,” Coach Mora said in summing up. “But to run for 204 yards, to have drives with a rookie quarterback to win, and to stop the run? That was outstanding.”
The Seahawks faced their division rivals, the Rams, in the Wild Card playoff round. St. Louis had swept the season series and made it three-for-three with a 27-20 win at Seattle. The Falcons, who had a first-round bye, went deeper into the postseason as they then thrashed the Rams, 47-17, but lost the NFC Championship game at Philadelphia.
Thanks to the Falcons holding onto the ball so long at the end of the game, Shaun Alexander ended up losing the NFL rushing title by one yard to Curtis Martin of the Jets. Alexander ended up with 1696 yards on 353 carries (4.8 avg.) and scored 16 touchdowns. He led the league by scoring a total of 20 TDs and was selected for the Pro Bowl.
Warrick Dunn (pictured below) finished five spots behind Alexander among NFC rushers with 1106 yards on 265 attempts (4.2 avg.) and 9 touchdowns. Matt Schaub made a favorable impression in his rookie season and stayed for another two years as Vick’s backup before being dealt to the Houston Texans.