Hawks capture NFC West crown with victory over Atlanta
Seattle will open playoffs on Saturday at Seahawks Stadium against the St. Louis Rams.
Mission accomplished. Barely.
Matt Hasselbeck threw two touchdown passes and got another TD on a sneak, leading the Seahawks to a 28-26 win over the Atlanta Falcons today as Seattle won the division and earned a first-round playoff game at home.
The Seahawks (9-7) barely avoided another late meltdown. Warrick Dunn was stopped on a 2-point conversion attempt that would have forced overtime. Reserve quarterback Matt Schaub threw a 3-yard TD pass to Brian Finneran as time expired.
Seattle's Shaun Alexander ran for 80 yards, finishing 1 yard behind Curtis Martin of the New York Jets (1,697) for the NFL's rushing title.
It was a meaningless game for Atlanta (11-5), which lost its final two after securing the NFC's No. 2 seed in the playoffs two weeks ago.
Atlanta gets a first-round bye, while Seattle will host NFC West rival St. Louis next Saturday.
Coach Jim Mora vowed to treat this like a playoff game and said Michael Vick would play. But he didn't say how much Vick would play, and that turned out to be just over one quarter.
There was no reason to risk an injury to the team's star, who was 6-of-7 for 35 yards and one TD.
Schaub almost helped the Falcons win without Vick. The Falcons moved 69 yards in the final 4:28 behind Schaub and the running of Dunn, who finished with 132 yards and posted his third 1,000-yard rushing season.
It got dramatic with the clock running down when the Falcons reached the red zone. But unlike Seattle's late collapses against St. Louis and Dallas, this one didn't slip away.
On fourth-and-1 at the 12, Schaub threw a swing pass to fullback Fred McCrary for a 9-yard gain. Schaub was tackled for no gain when a scrambled from the 3, and Atlanta took its last timeout with :07 on the clock.
On third down, Seattle's Ken Lucas had a sure interception go through his hands. Atlanta got a final play, and Schaub found Finneran on a crossing route at the back of the end zone.
That set up the 2-point conversion try. Schaub rolled left and handed off for a counter play to Dunn, who almost got across the goal line before he was smothered.
Jay Feely made a 40-yard field goal to pull Atlanta within 21-20 with 10:12 remaining. The Falcons would have held the lead at that point, but on the previous possession he was wide left on a 39-yard try.
Hasselbeck threw a 3-yard TD pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens midway through the fourth quarter, giving the Seahawks their first lead, 21-17. Hasselbeck made it 28-20 on a 1-yard sneak with 4:28 to play.
The stakes were defined for Seattle in the second period.
Just as Feely kicked a 33-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 10-7 lead, the Seahawks learned they'd have to beat Atlanta to get a home playoff game. At that moment in St. Louis, Jeff Wilkins' 31-yard field goal lifted the Rams past the Jets 32-29 in overtime.
Because the Rams beat Seattle twice and held the tiebreaker, the Seahawks had to win or go to St. Louis next weekend.
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