The Seahawks rallied from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead with 31 seconds remaining in their NFC Divisional playoff game in Atlanta. But the Falcons made the final rally, kicking a field goal with eight seconds left.

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ATLANTA — It was agonizing. Then it was amazing.

And in the end, it was utterly excruciating for the Seahawks and the city behind them.

It was Atlanta 30, Seattle 28 at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons’ kicker making a 49-yard field goal with eight seconds left in a second-round playoff game that went from maddening to miraculous to miserable for Seattle.

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“Couldn’t finish it,” coach Pete Carroll said.

It was incredible the Seahawks got that close, yet a shame it had to come to that.

This was a game that was hard to envision Seattle winning, given the chances it wasted in the first half and the defensive performance it had. The Seahawks were behind by 20 points in the first half, trailed 27-7 when the fourth quarter began and didn’t force Atlanta’s first punt until midway through the final period.

But by the final minute, it was harder to imagine Seattle losing. The Seahawks scored 21 consecutive points in the fourth quarter and Russell Wilson, after throwing for 144 yards in the first half, finished with 385, a playoff record for the franchise and NFL rookies.

When Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left, Seattle had its first lead of the game and was in position to match the largest comeback victory of any game in franchise history.

Twenty-five seconds. That’s how much time was left when Atlanta’s offense took the field at its 28, trailing for the first time.

Twenty-five seconds. That’s how long Seattle’s defense — which allowed the fewest points in the league during the regular season — needed to hold on.

Turned out 12 seconds was all the Falcons needed to complete two passes and put kicker Matt Bryant in position for the game-winning field goal that turned Seattle’s incredible comeback into ash.

“We’re a real resilient young team,” defensive tackle Red Bryant said. “We had our opportunities. Atlanta made some great plays, and was able to get the game-winning field goal.”

And Seattle will spend the offseason wondering what might have been. What if Lynch hadn’t fumbled in Atlanta territory in the first quarter? What if Seattle had chosen to kick a field goal in the second quarter instead of going for it on fourth-and-one from the Atlanta 11? What if the Seahawks hadn’t frittered away a second scoring opportunity in the final minute of the second quarter, Wilson getting sacked on third down with no timeouts remaining?

Yet despite all that, Seattle was less than a minute from winning in the second round of the playoffs for only the third time in franchise history.

“We’re going to fight you to the end,” linebacker Leroy Hill said. “That’s one thing I can always say about this team. Until the last second, we fight. Just fell a little short.”

The Seahawks stared down their largest deficit of the season for the second consecutive week. This time, they did it against a fully functional opposing quarterback. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns, but was also picked off twice.

Wilson completed his first 10 passes of the second half. He threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate, scrambled 1 yard for a score and then found tight end Zach Miller for a 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

By the time Lynch scored in the final minute, losing control of the ball after he crossed into the end zone, the nation was buzzing and Seattle was absolutely electric.

“It was an extraordinary game and an exquisite comeback,” Carroll said. “The quarterback was incredible — and everybody that made all those plays to get us back.”

The future is bright for this team, one of the youngest in the league and led by a rookie quarterback who overcame a double-digit deficit on the road in the playoffs for the second time in eight days. There will be time to talk about next season for Seattle, which has all but two starters from Sunday’s game signed through at least 2013.

But this was an oh-so-winnable game. They outgained the Falcons 491 yards to 417. The Seahawks forced more turnovers (two) than they committed (one), until Wilson was picked off on the game’s final play.

And for all the attention that Atlanta’s receivers got this week, it was Miller who led with eight catches for 142 yards, one away from matching the Seahawks’ record for a postseason game.

Still, Atlanta’s Roddy White caught a 47-yard touchdown pass — the longest scoring pass against Seattle this season — and timeless tight end Tony Gonzalez couldn’t have been more timely with his six catches, one of which resulted in a touchdown and another that set up the game-winning field goal.

Seattle didn’t run out of time after scoring four second-half touchdowns, it left too much of it. And now it will spend the offseason tortured by what could have been.

“I would have really liked it if he missed the kick,” Carroll joked.

It would have been even better for Seattle if it hadn’t come down to that.

Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or On Twitter @dannyoneil.

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