Even fumble turns golden for surprising Falcons
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Matt Ryan's biggest mistake of the day turned into a touchdown in Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings.
It's been that kind of season for the rookie quarterback and the Atlanta Falcons, who clinched a playoff spot with their 24-17 win at Minnesota.
Ryan's gaffe came as he was forced out of the pocket and tried to score on a second-down play from the Vikings' 5 in the third quarter. Ryan went air- borne, his feet flipping over his head, and he fumbled near the goal line.
Falcons left guard Justin Blalock said he didn't see the fumble. Even so, Blalock alertly dived into the pile and recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown that ultimately clinched a dramatic turnaround for the surprising team.
It was a fitting "Look what I found" kind of play for one of the league's biggest surprise stories of the year.
From 4-12 in 2007, the Falcons are 10-5. The team has made the playoffs with its rookie quarterback and first- year coach Mike Smith, and it would win the NFC South and earn a firstround bye if it beats St. Louis on Sunday in Atlanta and Carolina loses at New Orleans.
If the Falcons win and the Panthers lose, they would each finish the season at 11-5. The Falcons would win the tiebreaker based on their 8-4 conference record, which would be one game better than Carolina's 7-5 mark.
Blalock's big play gave Atlanta a 24-7 lead and proved to be the winning score when the Vikings rallied with 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Blalock said he cringed as he saw Ryan attempt to launch himself over the goal line.
"I was thinking, ' No, don't do it! Slide!'" Blalock said. "As I saw him taking off, I wanted to be around in case the ball pops up. It just so happened the ball did pop out. A little scrum again and lo and behold I came up with it."
It was the second straight week Blalock recovered a fumble by Ryan.
Blalock insists no special thank-you