A late interception by 49ers cornerback Nate Clements looked to all but spell the end of the Falcons' hopes of a comeback win. But a second chance emerged in the form of Roddy White, who caused a fumble on the play and gave the ball back to the offense. The rest was up to the Falcons' refusal to give up.
ATLANTA –There were moments in Sunday's 16-14 victory over the San Francisco 49ers that were far from pretty, including the game-winning kick.
Kicker Matt Bryant's 43-yard field goal in the game's final six seconds was wobbly and it required a re-kick after San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary called a timeout as Bryant kicked and made the first one, but it was good and gave the Falcons the narrowest of wins.
Bryant felt his game-winner, as ugly as it was, was synonymous with the way Sunday's back-and-forth game went.
"It probably wasn't the prettiest of wins, that kick kind of summed it up," Bryant said after the game. "It wasn't the prettiest, but the only thing that matters is we get that W and that ball went through the uprights."
Just like in last week's win over the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons needed a second chance at the end of the game to close the deal. Unlike last week when the Saints' kicker Garrett Hartley missed a field goal attempt to return the ball to Atlanta's offense, on Sunday, the Falcons made a play to get the ball back.
With less than two minutes to go and Atlanta driving down the field, trailing 14-13, quarterback Matt Ryan threw an interception to 49ers cornerback Nate Clements. Around the Atlanta 10-yard line one of the Falcons' main playmakers made a play he's not accustomed to.
Wide receiver Roddy White chased down the cornerback and stripped the ball, allowing guard Harvey Dahl to recover on Atlanta's 7.
It was a new possession.
A second chance.
Through four games in the 2010 season the Falcons have shown the NFL they are a few things, quitters is not one of them. They have a resolve and resiliency that reflects the even nature of head coach Mike Smith and they approach each play like it's the first, the last—good or bad—forgotten.
The huddle at their own 7 was fearless.
"I think everybody was on the same page," Ryan said. "We had just done down the football field pretty effectively and made a mistake which was frustrating. We had that same opportunity right back and we felt if we could tighten some things up then we could do it again. It's the mindset you have to have. It's special when all 11 guys have that."
As Ryan began to vertically pick apart a 49ers defense that had played tough all day, Smith was thinking less about if his team could win the game and more about how they would.
"That was probably my thoughts," the head coach said. "I was just trying to play mental gymnastics with the numbers in that situation. I knew that we had three timeouts when we got the ball back after the turnover. It gave us a lot of flexibility in what we could call."
While the pragmatic head coach quickly worked through scenarios in his head on the sidelines, the players on the field knew what the outcome would be, just not the final execution of it. They knew they'd been given a golden opportunity after White's forced fumble to try again.
"When he did it and we got the ball back, I was like 'We're going to win this game,'" running back Michael Turner said with a laugh in a subdued Falcons post-game locker room.
San Francisco dialed up a heavy blitz package that left the wide receivers in one-on-one coverage and Ryan managed to hang in the pocket and complete passes of 17 yards, 13 yards, 4 yards, 8 yards, and 5 yards as he marched the Falcons down the field.
"They were coming," guard Harvey Dahl said of the 49ers' defense. "They were coming for Matt. They were blitzing. We knew if we could give Matt enough time he can make anything happen especially with our receivers and our tight end. They're so good. So we just give him enough time and he made it happen."
When it was all said and done the Falcons escaped with another victory, maybe one they didn't deserve based on the first 58 minutes of the game. But this Atlanta ball club plays with a short memory and only lives for the next play.
When the next play came for Atlanta after what looked to be a game-ending mistake, they dusted themselves off and started all over.
"We never have quit in our team," wide receiver Harry Douglas said. "No matter what goes on in the game, I can honestly say every man on the team is going to try their hardest to get the victory. It showed today."