Having a squandered a 13-point lead, Matty Ice and his favorite receiver looked at each on the sideline and knew what they had to do.
Take it to the end zone.
Roddy White hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan with 20 seconds remaining and the Atlanta Falcons bounced back after blowing a fourth-quarter lead, rallying past the Baltimore Ravens 26-21 Thursday in a prime-time matchup between two of the NFL’s top teams. With the win, the Falcons stayed perfect at home at 5-0.
If this was a Super Bowl preview, it’s going to be quite a game in Big D.
”That might have been the most the intense game I’ve ever been involved with at any level of football,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith, a former Ravens assistant.
Baltimore appeared to be on its way to the victory when Joe Flacco threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap with 1:05 left.
Not with 65 seconds left for Ryan and White to work their magic.
”After they scored, we were on the sideline. We just looked at each other and smiled, man,” White said. ”We just relish moments like this. We knew we were going to go down there and get what we needed to win this game.”
Ryan needed less than a minute to pull off an 80-yard drive, hooking up with Michael Jenkins on a huge third-down pass along the sideline before going back to his favorite receiver for the winner.
Ryan rolled to his left to get away from the pressure, and White shoved off Josh Wilson with his right hand to get free, sending the cornerback tumbling to the turf. Ryan delivered the ball perfectly, White caught it with no one around and cruised into the end zone.
Wilson hopped up, screaming for a penalty. But the official kept the yellow flag in his back pocket and held up both arms. Touchdown.
White knew he got away with one.
”Yeah, you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do to win,” he said. ”It was one-on-one coverage with one guy. But he was kind of flat-footed, and he tried to grab me, so I just pushed him down.”
White was listed as questionable for the game after hurting his right knee in last Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay and practicing only once during the short week. But he had a big smile when he danced out of the tunnel during the pregame introductions and clearly wasn’t bothered.
He finished with 12 catches for 138 yards, giving him a staggering 70 catches for the season. Ryan threw a career-high 50 passes, completing 32 of them for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
”We’ve been in these situations before,” said Ryan, who improved to 18-1 when starting at home. ”We were confident. Nobody blinked. We just went out there and executed. We only needed three, but we got six.”
Flacco, coming back from a sluggish start, was 22 of 34 for 215 yards and three touchdowns of his own.
It wasn’t enough.
”We were pretty confident we had them,” cornerback Chris Carr said. ”We did an excellent job. We just came up short.”
With commissioner Roger Goodell looking on, just adding to the big-game feel, the Falcons (7-2) appeared to be in control after Ryan went to White for a 4-yard touchdown with 11:34 remaining to make it 20-7. Curiously, Smith didn’t attempt a 2-point conversion, which nearly came back to bite him.
After barely touching the ball in the first half, Baltimore (6-3) suddenly came alive. Flacco capped back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter with touchdown passes.
”It was a playoff atmosphere against a playoff-caliber team,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ”Obviously, it’s difficult when you play a team like that in their place. Being in this environment will help us later in the season.”
The Falcons dominated the first half, holding the ball for more than 21 minutes and going to the locker room with a 10-0 lead. The Ravens were fortunate it wasn’t worse.
Late in the first quarter, Ryan started a drive that would stretch into the second period and wind up covering 91 yards on 14 plays. He finished it with a short pass to a wide-open Jason Snelling out of the backfield. He worked up a head of steam, broke free from an attempted tackle by Dawan Landry and tumbled into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown.
Atlanta got close again just before halftime, but wound up settling for Matt Bryant’s 28-yard field goal.
Ryan completed 20 of 28 for 160 yards in the opening half, playing keep-away with the Ravens offense. Flacco had just 31 yards passing at the break, and the third quarter didn’t start out very well, either. Trying to stretch the field with a pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Flacco threw it a little short and Brent Grimes made the interception.
That resulted in another field goal by Bryant, this one from 51 yards.
Baltimore’s offense finally got going on its next possession. Flacco directed a 10-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Anquan Boldin grabbing a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Just like that, it was a game – what everyone expected all along from these teams.
White’s first touchdown catch restored the 13-point lead, but Flacco wasn’t done in this matchup of quarterbacks who were first-round picks in 2008 and have followed eerily similar career paths.
The Ravens marched down the field on a 75-yard drive, Flacco finishing it off with a 6-yard pass to Derrick Mason. After the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons picked up one first down but had to punt it away.
Flacco took his team the other way, completing five passes on a 72-yard drive that put the Ravens ahead for the first time all night.
The Ravens can only hope they get another shot at the Falcons in Dallas on that first Sunday in February.
NOTES: The Falcons honored Deion Sanders at halftime, inducting Prime Time into their ring of honor with a No. 21 banner high above the Georgia Dome, which he once proclaimed ”is my house.” Sanders played with the Falcons from 1989-93. … Atlanta RB Michael Turner was held to 39 yards on 17 carries, forcing the Falcons to rely mostly on their passing game. … Flacco spread it around, completing at least five passes to five different receivers. Boldin led the way with seven catches for 50 yards.