Even fum­ble turns golden for sur­pris­ing Fal­cons

The Covington News - - Sports - By Charles Odum

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

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