A second look at Tony Gonzalez's clutch catch
Matt Bryant's season-long field goal was a 55-yarder, so the Falcons needed 12 yards or so to put Bryant on that line when they lined up with 19 seconds left in Sunday's game vs. Seattle.
They gained 19.
The clutch pickup came courtesy of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who broke 20 yards downfield, curled and hauled in a bullet pass from Matt Ryan. Bryant booted the game-winning field goal on Atlanta's next snap, sending the Falcons to the NFC championship game.
It all looked way too easy for Atlanta, given the circumstances. But, in reality, the Seahawks' defense on that critical Gonzalez reception gave Atlanta ample opportunity to deliver a big play.
Seattle had a bit of a breakdown on the pass that preceded that one, too -- Harry Douglas lined up in the slot between Roddy White and Gonzalez, then broke his route off to the sideline as both White and Gonzalez went long. That Douglas move resulted in him finding a gap between a trailing Bobby Wagner and cornerback Brandon Browner.
That reception put Seattle's back to the wall. Knowing that Atlanta likely needed just one completion to be able to attempt a field goal (Bryant's career long: 62), the Seahawks reversed the passive approach they used on the Douglas catch and, instead, brought extra pressure on Ryan.
The Seahawks lined up with three down lineman (left end to right: Patrick Chukwurah, Greg Scruggs, Bruce Irvin) and showed blitz off the right side with K.J. Wright. Atlanta countered with White, Douglas and Gonzalez to Ryan's right, and Julio Jones isolated to the QB's left.
A different angle of the pre-snap alignment is below ...
Gonzalez (yellow) and rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner (red) are circled. Both Marcus Trufant and Winston Guy blitzed for Seattle on the play, giving the Seahawks five pass rushers ... and essentially leaving them in a one-deep man coverage downfield.
Kam Chancellor picked up Douglas, Richard Sherman guarded White and Brandon Browner took Jones. Wright, meanwhile, dropped back into a zone as deep safety Earl Thomas scanned the middle of the field.
And all of that left Wagner on Gonzalez.
By the time Ryan set to throw, this was a gimme. While Wright patrolled the short middle and Thomas played over the top, Gonzalez streaked down the field, in the process getting Wagner to turn and run with him.
When Gonzalez curled back toward Ryan, then, Wagner was facing the wrong direction. Plus, by playing off Gonzalez's inside shoulder, Wagner left the Atlanta tight end room to turn without pushing into Thomas' downfield domain.
Notice the protection as well there. Atlanta completely picked up the Seattle blitz, with Jacquizz Rodgers stepping up brilliantly to stuff Trufant, who delayed for a split-second before blitzing inside of Chukwurah and Guy.
Without that pressure disrupting Ryan at all, he had time to set and fire to Gonzalez. At that point, it was only a matter of the pass hitting its spot -- the failed blitz and shaky coverage from Wagner left the Seahawks in a no-win situation.
Wagner enjoyed a sensational rookie season but, either by scheme or execution (possibly both), he endured a learning experience at the worst possible moment. Gonzalez proved way too talented -- and far too experienced -- for Wagner here. Ryan took advantage, and the Falcons moved on.