The Falcons where on the brink of allowing the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history when Seattle's Marshawn Lynch scored on a two-yard run with 31 seconds left to snatch the lead for the first time in the game.
But Atlanta QB Matt Ryan completed two long passes after the kickoff, setting up Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal with eight seconds left to reclaim the lead.
Even then the Falcons almost contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as a surprising onside kick attempt handed the Seahawks field position to launch a last gasp Hail Mary. But Russell Wilson's last throw, a desperation heave into the end zone, was intercepted by Falcons receiver Julio Jones.
The Falcons will now play in the NFC championship game for only the third time in franchise history, hosting the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday.
The victory was a relief for the Falcons, head coach Mike Smith and QB Ryan who had lost their first playoff game in each of the three occasions that they had reached the postseason together.
Wilson passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, but it was not enough for the Seahawks. The rookie finished with 385 yards passing and did all he could to lead the Seahawks back from a 27-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter. When Lynch powered over in the final minute, a play set up by Wilson's scramble, Seattle celebrated like they would be playing in the conference final.
Ryan, who had struggled in his first three playoff appearances, had just enough time to rally the Falcons. He hooked up with Harry Douglas on a 29-yard pass in front of the Falcons bench, and coach Mike Smith signaled a timeout. Then, Ryan went down the middle to his favorite target, tight end Tony Gonzalez, a Hall of Famer-to-be playing what could have been his final game.
Gonzalez hauled in the 19-yard throw, and Smith called his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Instead of risking another play and having the clock run out, he sent Bryant in for the field goal.
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