Bryant’s late field goal lifts Falcons to fifth straight win

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ATLANTA | Don’t even mention a third straight winning season to the Atlanta Falcons.

Their goals are so much bigger than that.

The Falcons stayed atop the NFC when Matt Bryant kicked a 47-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining Sunday for a 20-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers, one of the teams trying to chase down Atlanta in the conference standings.

Make no mistake. The Falcons (9-2) were very much aware of the possible ramifications this game might have beyond the regular season.

“I have no plans of going to Lambeau Field in January,” Atlanta receiver Roddy White said. “I plan on staying right here and sleeping in my own bed in the playoffs.”

The Falcons have won five in a row for their longest streak since the 1998 season, when the team reached its only Super Bowl. Also assured is a third consecutive winning record — not too shabby, considering the franchise had never even had two in a row before this run.

Yet that’s just an afterthought for these guys, who have won six straight games decided by a touchdown or less after losing the opener to Pittsburgh in overtime.

“It’s great to get a winning season,” coach Mike Smith said. “But the expectations and goals we talk about are a lot higher than that.”

Bryant had to make his winning kick twice.

The Packers called a timeout just before he knocked his first attempt right down the middle. No problem. The 35-year-old had already made two game-winning kicks this season, and No. 3 had plenty of distance as it hooked slightly but stayed several feet inside the left upright.

“Pressure is what you feel when you’re not prepared,” Bryant said. “I’ve been preparing for that since I was 6 years old. Was there a little bit of pressure? Yeah. But I was prepared.”

His do-over capped a game between playoff contenders that lived up to all the hype: a bruising defensive struggle filled with huge fourth-down plays and one very important kickoff return by Eric Weems.

After Aaron Rodgers threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson with 56 seconds remaining to tie the game for Green Bay (7-4), Weems broke loose up the middle and was dragged down by Matt Wilhelm with a flagrant facemask tackle. The Falcons took over at the Green Bay 49, Matt Ryan completed four straight short passes and Bryant made the winning kick.

The Falcons weren’t concerned after Green Bay scored, especially with Ryan at quarterback. He completed 24 of 28 for 198 yards, including a 4-yarder to Tony Gonzalez for Atlanta’s first TD.

“We’ve got Matty Ice,” White said. “Ice cold. He just keeps moving the sticks.”

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