Seahawks' season ends in Atlanta; Falcons advance to NFC title game

Seahawks' season ends in Atlanta; Falcons advance to NFC title game


ATLANTA -- Matt Ryan looked very much like an MVP, and the Atlanta Falcons are headed to the NFC championship game.

Ryan threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Falcons to a 36-20 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round Saturday.

Atlanta will face either the Dallas Cowboys or the Green Bay Packers, who meet Sunday in the NFC's other divisional game.

After the Seahawks zipped down the field for a touchdown on the opening possession, Atlanta's young defense largely shut down Russell Wilson & Co. the rest of the way.

Ryan and the high-scoring Falcons took it from there - getting a huge boost from a holding penalty that wiped out an 80-yard punt return by Devin Hester.

Ryan hooked up with Julio Jones on a 7-yard touchdown and Tevin Coleman for a 14-yard score before finishing off the Seahawks with a 3-yard toss to Mohamed Sanu in the corner of the end zone with just under 4 minutes remaining, sparking a raucous chant of "MVP! MVP! MVP!" from a Georgia Dome crowd that stood most of the game, giving the Falcons the sort of home-field advantage that Seattle is used to having at the Link.

"It feels good," said Ryan, who came in with a 1-4 record in the playoffs. "I think we executed really well across the board. We weren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, we made some mistakes. But consistency for the entire day was really, really good. I was proud of the way we played."

Before a foot injury limited him in the second half, Jones made life miserable for Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who got away with an apparent pass interference penalty on Atlanta's star receiver when the teams met during the regular season, preserving a 26-24 victory for the Seahawks.

Jones was targeted eight times, coming up with six receptions for 67 yards to set a tone that Atlanta would not be intimidated by the Legion of Boom.

But, as usual, Ryan spread the ball around to everyone.

Speedy Taylor Gabriel had a 37-yard reception.

Running back Devonta Freeman slipped out of the backfield to haul in a 53-yard pass, putting a dazzling fake on replacement free safety Steven Terrell right in the middle of the field. The Seahawks sure missed Earl Thomas, out for the season with a broken leg.

In all, eight players caught passes from Ryan.

"He stayed on exactly the same path he had during the regular season," said second-year Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, who beat the team he worked for previously as defensive coordinator. "He was on it."

For only the fourth time in their 51-year history, the Falcons (12-5) will be playing for the conference title and a spot in the Super Bowl.

They made their only Super Bowl appearance during the 1998 season, falling to Denver in John Elway's final game, and lost in the NFC title game during the 2004 and 2012 seasons.

The Seahawks (11-6-1) couldn't follow up a dominating win over Detroit in the opening round, the game turning dramatically on a holding penalty in the second quarter that wiped out Hester's return to the Atlanta 7.

Instead of having first-and-goal and a chance to extend a 10-7 lead, Seattle was backed up to its 7. After Thomas Rawls was thrown for a 3-yard loss, Wilson attempted to drop back for a pass.

One problem: rookie right guard Rees Odhiambo, taking over after Germain Ifedi was injured, stepped back onto Wilson's foot, sending the quarterback tumbling down in the end zone. Ben Garland fell on Wilson for a safety that turned the momentum Atlanta's way.

Matt Bryant's 35-yard field goal put the Falcons ahead to stay, and the home team closed out the first half with a 99-yard drive touchdown that was extended by Sanu's brilliant, one-handed catch for 22 yards with Jeremy Lane grabbing at his arm.

After getting beat on Seattle's first possession, an Atlanta defense featuring four rookies and a bunch of second-year players limited the Seahawks to a pair of a field goals before giving up a meaningless 31-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin in the closing minutes.

"It's just really hard to think it's over," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

Facing his former team, Hester certainly had quite an impact on special teams.

Even though his longest play was wiped out, he had five kickoff returns for 194 yards, including a 78-yarder.

Hester played for the Falcons in 2014 and `15. He signed with the Seahawks just before the playoffs.

Seattle's tight ends took quite a beating. Brandon Williams went out with a concussion and Luke Willson was evaluated for a possible concussion late in the game.

Also, Seahawks cornerback DeShawn Shead did not return after being helped off the field with a left knee injury early in the second half.

The Falcons lost defensive end Adrian Clayborn with a biceps injury on Seattle's opening drive.

If Green Bay upsets the Cowboys, the NFC championship game would be next weekend at the Georgia Dome, extending the 25-year-old stadium's tenure one more game.

The Falcons are moving to $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season.

Terrell Owens selects former 49ers coach as his Hall of Fame presenter


Terrell Owens selects former 49ers coach as his Hall of Fame presenter

Terrell Owens has selected former 49ers special teams and wide receivers coach George Stewart as his presenter into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“He knew what to get out of me,” Owens told the Hall of Fame.

“He knows who I am. To know who Terrell Owens is, you have to spend some time with him. . . George Stewart became a father figure to me.”

Owens was elected into the Hall of Fame in February. He will enter the Hall of Fame in a class that also includes wide receiver Randy Moss, linebackers Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Robert Brazile, safety Brian Dawkins, guard Jerry Kramer, and contributor Bobby Beathard.

Owens played special teams under Stewart’s direction as a rookie after coming to the 49ers in 1996.

From 2000 to ’02, Stewart worked as the 49ers’ wide receivers coach. Owens was selected to three consecutive All-Pro teams and Pro Bowls during that time. Owens ranks No. 2 all time behind Jerry Rice with 15,934 receiving yards. He is third all-time with 153 receiving touchdowns.

Stewart is set to enter his 30th NFL season as an assistant coach and his second as special-teams coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Class of 2018 will be enshrined inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, Aug. 4.

Sherman makes his concern over Reid's free-agency status loud and clear


Sherman makes his concern over Reid's free-agency status loud and clear

Safety Eric Reid, who has 69 career starts and one Pro Bowl appearance in his five-year NFL career, remains available on the open market more than a week after the opening of free agency.

Reid has received no reported interest from NFL teams in what has been an unusually soft market for free-agent safeties. But, with Reid, there is another variable that could be playing a factor.

Reid was at the forefront of the social activism that has been a major storyline in the NFL since the beginning of the 2016 season. Reid and former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in protest of racial inequality in America.

Reid has remained outspoken and has taken a knee as a way to “make people uncomfortable about the issues.” Reid has been clear his protest has nothing to do with the flag or the anthem.

“The anthem is just a vehicle to get us to have those conversations,” Reid told NBC Sports Bay Area last season. “It’s the platform we have. It’s the only time we have to get the eyeballs on us to do that. If we just did locker-room talks afterward, nobody would even know. Strategically, this is the only way we thought we could do it.”

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, who signed a three-year contract with the 49ers on March 10, had been the Seattle Seahawks’ player representative. He is a vice president of the NFL Players Association. Reid was the 49ers’ union representative.

Sherman said he is keeping a close eye on Reid’s situation.

“We are concerned, because he played at a high level for just about every year that he’s played in this league,” Sherman said on Tuesday. “He’s made enough plays to be signed with a team and to make his money. He deserves his money. Safeties make a certain amount. I would think he’s top-five, top-10 safeties in this league, so he deserves to be paid accordingly.

“So there is concern there, because you would think a player of his caliber and his quality would be picked up by now. I think great teams are still looking and people are still looking for players. I’m praying that he gets picked up. But if he doesn’t, then I think there will be a conversation with the league office and the union on potential league action.”

Kaepernick never got so much as an opportunity to compete for an NFL roster spot during training camp last season. Could Reid, 26, be heading for the same fate?

Reid addressed the issue last week on social media:

“The notion that I can be a great signing for your team for cheap, not because of my skill set but because I’ve protested systemic oppression, is ludicrous. If you think is, then your mindset is part of the problem too.”

The 49ers have not placed a priority on re-signing Reid. The club already has potential starting safeties Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert under contract for the upcoming season.

Reid, whom the 49ers traded up to select with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has 10 career interceptions. He appeared to thrive last season in run support as a safety who played closer to the line of scrimmage.