The Seattle Seahawks were in their third year under Pete Carroll and hadn't had a winning season. But a third-round draft pick named Russell Wilson was about to change all that.
Wilson quarterbacked the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and three other rookies, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Jeremy Lane, helped spark the defense. The 'Hawks knocked off the Redskins in the wild-card round, earning a January trip to Atlanta.
Wilson's rally wasn't enough
Matt Ryan, wielding a .717 career winning percentage and looking like a future Hall of Famer, was having his best year, throwing 32 touchdown passes, leading the league in completion percentage (68.6) and going 13-3 to win the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But he still was yet to win his first playoff game.
It looked like he had the edge against the inexperienced Wilson, leading the Falcons to a 27-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. But then the rookie showed flashes of the clutchness to come, rallying the Seahawks with three touchdown drives to take a one-point lead with 31 seconds left. But Ryan marched the Falcons down the field and Matt Bryant kicked the 49-yard winner with 8 seconds left, giving Ryan that elusive first playoff win, 30-28.
'We learned from it'
"We felt like we were far, but we still had a long way to go," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner told reporters this week. "Kind of like woke us up, but it definitely made us hungry too because when you feel like you have a great team that should win it all and you lose ... and you sit there in the offseason and watch the other teams win, it gives you that hunger to come into the next season prepared and I think that's what happened."
K.J. Wright: "I believe that we weren't quite ready yet to take it all the way. I'm kind of glad that happened to us because we learned from it. We won the Super Bowl the following year so we learned from that moment."
Won a Super Bowl
Indeed, Wilson won the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl the next season, routing Peyton Manning and the Broncos 43-8. It was part of a Seahawks stretch that included two NFC championships, yearly playoff appearances and another Super Bowl – this time a loss.
A lot happened after that Seahawks-Falcons game.
USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
The Seahawks’ second straight Super Bowl appearance won’t be forgotten, thanks to the controversial call for Wilson to throw the ball from the 1 with the game on the line. Malcolm Butler’s interception saved the New England Patriots from certain defeat and became one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history.
Mark J. RebilasUSA TODAY Sports
Wilson, who passed for a career-high 385 yards in that playoff game against the Falcons, went on to parallel Ryan’s promising start to his career, matching the Falcons QB’s NFL record by winning 56 games in his first five seasons. He set a slew of Seahawks records, earning two more Pro Bowl selections and a big contract extension.
Oh yeah ...
... and he married Ciara!
Reversal of fortune
Ryan and the Falcons, meanwhile, suffered through three straight seasons without a winning record or a playoff appearance before enjoying a comeback season this year that might win him the MVP. Ryan had career highs in TDs (38), passing yards (4,944) and completion percentage (69.9) while leading the league in passer rating (117.1), and the Falcons went 11-5 to win the NFC South.
Remember this, too?
But when the teams met back in Week 6 in Seattle, the Seahawks prevailed 26-24 thanks in part to this crucial no-call on Richard Sherman against Julio Jones.
Tune in Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET on FOX and FOX Sports GO) for the rematch. You can be sure a lot more will happen.