In what's believed to be the first such play in NFL history, the Kansas City Chiefs lost their lead on a fourth-quarter touchdown then immediately gained it back on the very next play after Eric Berry intercepted Atlanta's two-point conversion attempt and returned it for two points. What had been a 27-22 lead before the touchdown and became a 28-27 deficit after it turned back into a lead at 29-28, a score that would stand as the final result. It's all because of the new NFL rule that teams can score defensive points on blocked kicks or missed two-point conversions. And what an awesome rule that's proved to be.
With his team suddenly leading in its crucial Week 13 game, Matt Ryan took the snap for a chance to go up three points, looked in the end zone and thought he had an open receiver. But he didn't see the Chiefs' Berry, who jumped the crossing route, cleanly picked off the ball and ran 99 yards without anyone getting within 25 feet of him. It was the second score on the day for Berry, who became the first man to ever have a pick-six and a “pick-two” in the same NFL game.
Should this have been avoided? Should Falcons coach Dan Quinn, not exactly known for being conservative, have sent in the kicking team to go up two points? Oh, c'mon. Just stop. You have to go for it. It's not even a decision. It's a reflex.
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“Up by one with less than five minutes left” is almost as much of a no-brainer as “down by two with no time left.” If there were a Three Commandments for two-point conversions, those would two rules would be chiseled on the tablet along with “thou shalt not throw a fade to anyone not named Randy Moss.”
The Chiefs had three timeouts and 4:32 on the clock, down one point. Though Kansas City is hardly an offensive juggernaut on par with the '07 Patriots, you have to assume that with that much time, a full complement of timeouts and a defense that had already made Alex Smith look as efficient as a simple machine, the Chiefs are going to put points on the board. And because one of the two ways the Chiefs can score on offense is by hitting a three-point field goal, there's no question that Atlanta needs to go up by, duh, three points. Anyone who says otherwise is doing so with the benefit of hindsight. Going for it wasn't the problem.
The quarterback was the problem. Matt Ryan, who's in the midst of an MVP season, made the classic mistake that quarterbacks of every skill level have made before: He started down his target and never broke eye contact, thus leaving him blind to the presence of a cornerback — in this case, a two-time All-Pro.
Ryan thought he had Austin Hooper one-on-one (he's the red blur just atop the arrow) and would hit him with a crisp, easy pass for two points. Like a driver changing lanes without checking his blind spot, Ryan never saw Berry coming. It happens.
But, oh, how this will hurt the Falcons. Already robbed of a win earlier this year in Seattle, Atlanta dropped to 7-5 and, depending on what the Bucs do in their late-afternoon game, could be tied atop the NFC South by bedtime Sunday.
They say one decision can change the entire arc of an NFL team's season. The Falcons just happened to make theirs on one of the most unique plays the league has ever seen.
1) ATL scores TD, takes lead 2) ATL goes for 2 3) Berry PICKS IT OFF, goes the distance