ATLANTA — If this was a Super Bowl preview, that's going to be quite a game in Big D.
Roddy White hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan with 20 seconds remaining and the Atlanta Falcons, after squandering a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, rallied to beat the Baltimore Ravens 26-21 on Thursday in a prime-time matchup between two of the NFL's top teams.
With commissioner Roger Goodell looking on, just adding to the big-game feel, the Falcons (7-2) appeared to be control after Ryan hooked up with White on a 4-yard touchdown with 11:34 remaining to make it 20-7. Curiously, Atlanta coach Mike Smith didn't attempt a 2-point conversion, which nearly came back to bite him.
After barely touching the ball in the first half, Baltimore (6-3) rallied behind Joe Flacco's two fourth-quarter TD passes, the second of them a 9-yarder to Todd Heap with 1:05 left.
Back came the Falcons, who improved to 18-1 at home with Ryan as the starter. He needed less than a minute to pull off an 80-yard drive, hooking up with Michael Jenkins on a huge third-down pass along the sideline before going back to his favorite receiver for the winner.
Ryan rolled to his left to get away from the pressure, and White appeared to push off Josh Wilson with his right hand to get free, sending the cornerback tumbling to the turf. Ryan delivered the ball perfectly, White caught it with no one around and cruised into the end zone.
Wilson hopped up, screaming for a flag. But the official kept the yellow flags in his back pocket and held up both arms. Touchdown.
"If you like football, like intense football, that was it," said Falcons coach Mike Smith, a former Ravens assistant. "That might have been the most the intense game I've ever been involved with at any level of football."
White came into the game listed as questionable after hurting his right knee in last Sunday's win over Tampa Bay and practicing only once during the short week. But he danced out of the tunnel during the pregame introductions with a big smile and clearly wasn't bothered.
He finished with 12 catches for 138 yards. Ryan threw a career-high 50 passes, completing 32 of them for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
Flacco, coming back from a sluggish start, was 22 of 34 for 215 yards and three touchdowns, too.
The Falcons dominated the first half, holding the ball for more than 21 minutes and going to the locker room with a 10-0 lead. The Ravens were fortunate it wasn't worse.
Late in the first quarter, Ryan started a drive that would stretch into the second period and wind up covering 91 yards on 14 plays. He finished it with a short pass to a wide-open Jason Snelling out of the backfield. He worked up a head of steam, broke free from an attempted tackle by Dawan Landry and tumbled into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown.
Atlanta got close again just before halftime, but wound up settling for Matt Bryant's 28-yard field goal.
Ryan completed 20 of 28 for 160 yards in the opening half, playing keep-away with the Ravens offense. Flacco had just 31 yards passing at the break, and the third quarter didn't start out very well, either. Trying to stretch the field with a pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Flacco threw it a little short and Brent Grimes made the interception.
That resulted in another field goal by Bryant, this one from 51 yards.
Baltimore's offense finally got going on its next possession. Flacco directed a 10-play, 65-yard drive that got the Ravens right back in the game. Anquan Boldin finished it off, hauling in a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Just like that, it was a game — what everyone expected all along from these teams.
White's first touchdown catch restored the 13-point lead, but Flacco wasn't done in this matchup of quarterbacks who were first-round picks in 2008 and have followed eerily similar career paths.
The Ravens marched down the field on a 75-yard drive, Flacco finishing it off with a 6-yard pass to Derrick Mason.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons picked up one first down but had to punt it away.
Flacco took his team the other way, completing five passes on a 72-yard drive that put the Ravens ahead for the first time all night.
There were just 65 seconds remaining, but that was enough time for Ryan and White.
The Ravens can only hope they get another shot at the Falcons in Dallas on that first Sunday in February.