By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, center, scores against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Atlanta Falcons' Olamide Zaccheaus (17) celebrates after scoring against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) runs against Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kendall Sheffield (20) and outside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (59) during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) runs in front of San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes as San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99), defensive end Nick Bosa (97) and defensive end Solomon Thomas (94) apply pressure during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage (83) runs against San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner, left, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) runs against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan watches the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan scrambles against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Atlanta Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley (44) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches a touchdown pass in front of San Francisco 49ers defensive back Emmanuel Moseley during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) looks to pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Matt Ryan outshined his former offensive coordinator in an MVP-type fashion Kyle Shanahan knows oh so well.
Yet even this rally might have been more improbable than either could have imagined - two Falcons touchdowns in the final 5 seconds. A pair of replay reversals in the last 8 ticks of the clock, including Austin Hooper's apparent TD reception being ruled no good.
Ryan connected with Julio Jones on a 5-yard pass that did get ruled a touchdown after a replay reversal went Atlanta's way with 2 seconds left, sending the Falcons past the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers 29-22 on Sunday.
“That was awesome. At the end, game on the line, those are the moments as a coach that you totally live for,” Atlanta's Dan Quinn said. “It makes you feel most alive."
This Falcons upset forces the 49ers to win out if they want to hold onto the NFC's No. 1 seed.
Jones initially was called short of the goal line with the Falcons trailing 22-17. But a replay showed the ball breaking the plane as the Atlanta receiver leaped in the air while being tackled by Jimmie Ward.
“When you’re down that tight in the red zone, there are going to be tight window throws. It was a great effort," Ryan said. The call didn’t go our way. At that point, you have to have the mindset of just getting right back to it and finding a way to get the job done the following play.”
When things couldn't get crazier, they did: On the final kickoff, Atlanta scored another touchdown when Olamide Zaccheaus came up with the ball as the 49ers were tossing it around in desperation.
The 49ers still clinched their first playoff berth since a 2013 run to the NFC championship game with the Rams' loss at Dallas.
“All we can do is win these next two games," Shanahan said. “When you get to this point in the year with where we’re at and what we’ve done, we’re encouraged by one thing right now, and that’s winning. That’s how it’s going to be the rest of the year.”
In an afternoon when Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense hardly shined, San Francisco's other units did their best to hold off Ryan until the quarterback exhibited the poise of a former MVP in a dramatic final minute - or, make that 12 seconds.
Kyle Juszczyk recovered a fumble on the punt return team early in the fourth quarter then caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Garoppolo two plays later as the 49ers (11-3) briefly gave themselves some room before failing to close it out.
Fill-in safety Marcell Harris broke up a pass in the end zone intended for Hooper in the waning moments. Then with 8 seconds remaining, Hooper couldn't keep hold of the ball in the end zone though the Falcons were already celebrating an upset when the play went to a review and the catch overturned because the ball hit the ground.
They got one more chance, and made it count. Then Atlanta celebrated for real, leaving San Francisco's players stunned.
Al Riveron, the NFL's senior vice president of officiating, said because Hooper's apparent catch got called a touchdown it automatically came to New York for another look.
“The ball actually takes him to the ground. This is the one remaining situation where you have two steps, but if you don’t have a football move, you’re going to the ground, you must survive the ground," Riveron told a pool reporter. “In this situation, he takes the ball, it hits the ground and then he loses control of the football when he comes back up. Therefore, it’s an incomplete pass.”
Before Juszczyk's timely pounce, it appeared there was no way Ryan would get the best of Shanahan and San Francisco just a week after the Niners put up 48 points in New Orleans.
The Falcons (5-9) got within 19-17 on Qadree Ollison's 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth.
Facing his former team and now in his third year as 49ers coach, Shanahan's high-powered offense fizzled much of the day.
Shanahan spent two seasons as offensive coordinator in Atlanta coaching Ryan during his 2016 MVP year when the Falcons set a franchise record by scoring 540 points and Ryan had career bests in yards passing (4,944), TD passes (38) and passer rating (117.1). Then the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead on New England in the Super Bowl and Shanahan left for the Bay Area shortly after.
Out West, Shanahan and Garoppolo hope for their own special playoff run with a different result at the end.
Ryan threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jones midway through the second quarter and the Falcons led 10-7 on Younghoe Koo's 43-yard field goal late in the quarter before the Niners tied it with a 22-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
SECONDARY STEPS UP
The 49ers made plays on defense despite their depleted secondary that was missing cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Jaquiski Tarrt and slot cornerback K'Waun Williams.
Harris, in for Tartt, made the big breakup late and also batted away a third-down pass by Ryan on Atlanta's opening series then Dre Greenlaw had a deflection as the Falcons punted again their next chance.
“I thought our defense played great all day. They gave us an opportunity offensively. Special teams got the turnover, but yeah, you give a good quarterback like that much time, it’s tough," Garoppolo said of Ryan.
FUMBLE FOR NOTHING
In the closing minute of the third, Grady Jarrett forced a fumble by 49ers running back Matt Breida and recovered at the Falcons 34 but Atlanta couldn't make good on it.
Falcons: DE Takk McKinley went down with a shoulder injury near the 49ers sideline at the 8:28 mark of the opening quarter and didn't return. Atlanta then lost linebacker Foyesade Oluokun to a shoulder injury in the second half.
Falcons: Host Jacksonville on Sunday.
49ers: Host Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.
Minnesota Vikings running back Mike Boone had a great game in Week 15's blowout win over the Los Angeles Chargers. The undrafted second-year back out of Cincinnati rushed 13 times for 56 yards and two touchdowns in the win, finding the end zone for the first time in his young career. Boone worked as the lead back in the second half with starter Dalvin Cook (shoulder) out, and he looked just as explosive as he did when he dominated in the preseason this year. Cook was ruled out very quickly and Alexander Mattison (ankle) could be looking at an extended absence, as evidenced by the Vikings signing Tony Brooks-James to their practice squad last Wednesday. Boone is a priority pickup with Cook and Mattison ailing as he would be squarely on the RB2 radar in Week 16 if they are both ruled out. Stay tuned for updates on all three Vikings' backs.
The Minnesota Vikings Defense stepped up in a big way in Week 15's 39-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. They tallied a whopping seven takeaways (three interceptions and four fumble recoveries), three sacks, and a touchdown as the Chargers looked flustered all game long. The most notable play was Danielle Hunter's strip-sack and forced fumble that was scooped by Ifeadi Odenigbo and returned 56 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. The defense took control of this game from the get-go, but the secondary continued its stretch of subpar play and Xavier Rhodes was replaced by Mike Hughes for a good portion of the game. The Vikings Defense will be a risky option in Week 16's home matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
Minnesota Vikings kicker Dan Bailey had himself a game in Week 15, going 4-for-4 on field goals attempts and knocking in three extra points in a 39-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Bailey hit from 26, 27, 38, and 44 yards and is now sitting at an impressive 92% field goal percentage for the season. Bailey is a recommended start in Week 16's home matchup against the rival Green Bay Packers.
Oakland Raiders WR Tyrell Williams caught two of his three targets for 45 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown, in a 20-16 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15.
Fantasy Spin: After scoring in five consecutive games to open the year, Williams had gone six straight games without a touchdown prior to the Week 15 contests. He's an all-or-nothing, touchdown-dependent flex option.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. caught two of three targets for eight yards and a touchdown in Week 15's convincing win over the Los Angeles Chargers. His score was a one-yarder off of play-action to open up the game's scoring in the first quarter. It was the second touchdown of the promising rookie's career, with the first coming back in Week 11. That being said, Smith Jr. is still working behind Kyle Rudolph and does not receive enough volume to be in consideration for fantasy rosters heading into Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Chris Conley caught four of his eight targets for 49 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-16 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 15.
Fantasy Spin: Conley has been good for a handful of grabs and around 50 yards most weeks, but he entered the game with just two touchdowns. At best, he's a risky flex option.
Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey rushed 19 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks. He also added eight grabs for 88 yards on 10 targets.
Fantasy Spin: McCaffrey continues to put up amazing numbers, win or lose. He will be in the conversation for No. 1 overall fantasy pick heading into the 2020 season. The Panthers travel to meet the Colts in Week 16.
Carolina Panthers WR D.J. Moore finished with eight catches for 113 yards on 12 targets in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Fantasy Spin: That's four 100-yard games in the past seven outings, and at least 75 yards in all seven during the span. He is a legit WR2 in PPR formats, and a nice WR3 or flex option in standard play. The Panthers travel to meet the Colts in Week 16.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 19-of-25 for 207 yards and a touchdown in a dominating Week 15 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. He also added three rushes for 14 yards. He did toss an interception, but the blame for that one lays squarely on backup running back Ameer Abdullah. Cousins was very efficient again this week, but he simply didn't need to put up big fantasy numbers as the Vikings held a two-possession lead and heavily emphasized the ground game for most of the second half. His lone touchdown pass came on a one-yarder to Irv Smith Jr. to open up the game. Cousins will be on the low-end QB1 radar for Week 16's home matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
The Washington Redskins Defense ended a three-game streak of playing admirably in Sunday's loss to the Eagles. Carson Wentz launched three touchdowns through the air, while Miles Sanders racked up 172 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns of his own. The Redskins didn't help their bottom line with turnovers and sacks the way they have been of late, getting to Wentz just twice and recovering one forced fumble. The end result was 31 points surrendered defensively and not enough complementary stats to account for those points in fantasy lineups. Washington's defense will have a chance to bounce back against the Giants at home next week.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph caught all three of his targets for 48 yards in Week 15's 39-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Rudolph finished second in targets and receiving yardage on the team this week as he surprisingly remained relevant despite Adam Thielen's return. Rookie Irv Smith Jr. vultured a one-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but Rudolph's continued involvement in the offense is definitely encouraging. Continue to view him as a touchdown-dependent TE2 heading into Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers.
Seattle Seahawks WR Josh Gordon had one grab for 58 yards on his only target in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers and he also threw a pass and was picked off.
Fantasy Spin: Gordon is a big-play receiver capable of being a fantasy contributor. He just still isn't 100 percent part of the offense yet. Avoid him outside of deeper fantasy leagues in Week 16 against the Cardinals.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette rushed 15 times for 42 yards and caught five of his seven targets for 31 yards in a 20-16 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 15.
Fantasy Spin: Fournette has been held to 50 rushing yards or less in three straight games, but fortunately for fantasy owners, his increased role in the passing game this year has allowed him to salvage decent point totals more often than not. At worst, he should be a volume-based RB2.
Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner totaled 10 tackles with two passes defensed in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly totaled 17 tackles with two quarterback hits in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Kelvin Harmon was largely absent from his team's offensive attack for the second week in a row on Sunday. Harmon caught two passes on three targets and accumulated just 22 total yards in a loss to the Eagles. This is a discouraging trend for Harmon after he appeared to be carving out a spot in the pecking order in late November and early December. In any case, the fantasy season is at the point where owners just have to trust what their eyes are telling them. Harmon has dropped too far off the map to be considered a realistically safe bet in the late stages of the fantasy playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett posted eight receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown in Week 14 against the Carolina Panthers on a team-high nine targets.
Fantasy Spin: Lockett had been banged up recently, battling a shin contusion, but he is back just in time for fantasy owners. The Seahawks face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16.
Seattle Seahawks RB Chris Carson rushed 24 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers.
Fantasy Spin: With Rashaad Penny out of the picture it's the Chris Carson Show, and he more than looked capable of handling the entire workload. He is in line for a huge fantasy performance in Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Washington Redskins RB Adrian Peterson rushed 16 times for 66 yards and a touchdown and caught all three of his targets for 25 yards in a 37-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15.
Fantasy Spin: An injury to Derrius Guice has Peterson leading the Washington backfield once again, and he has topped 75 total yards and scored in each of the past three games. He's a legitimate RB2 candidate heading into a favorable Week 16 matchup against the New York Giants.
Cleveland Browns kicker Austin Seibert hit one of his two field goals in a 38-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15. Seibert also tacked on three extra points in the loss. The rookie kicker missed a 45-yard field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter, his fourth missed field goal of the season. In all, Seibert has been a reliable kicker for the Browns this season, although their poor offense has limited his scoring chances. Seibert will not be a recommended fantasy option in Week 16 against a tough Baltimore Ravens Defense.