ATLANTA — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has heard the knocks.
He needs to be flashier. He needs to be more vocal. He needs to be more consistent. He needs to be flashier more consistently.
“It’s fair,” Ryan told the NFL Network, in reference to criticism directed his way, before the Falcons’ 41-14 dismantling of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night inside the Georgia Dome.
“[But] in the NFL there is going to be some inconsistent play because there are a lot of good players that you’re going against week in and week out.”
Details, shmeetails. The critics don’t want explanations. They want the Falcons in the Super Bowl. Yesterday. They wonder if the guy they once affectionately dubbed “Matty Ice” for his late-game heroics hasn’t become Matty Ice-Cold when the Dirty Birds need him most.
They point to last season’s playoff meltdown against the Green Bay Packers. They point to the 17-10 loss at Houston two weeks ago and the 2-3 start two months ago and wonder if their Ice Man melteth beneath the league’s hottest spotlights, merely a pretty good quarterback in a sport where only the greatest are fitted for rings.
In other words, is Ryan closer to Joe Namath or Joe Flacco?
What might surprise his critics is that the fourth-year pro out of Boston College doesn’t disagree with what separates the best from the rest.
“Quarterbacks are judged by what you do in the playoffs,” he told the network. “I have to do something in the playoffs. All of those guys [New England’s Tom Brady, Indianapolis’s Peyton Manning, the New York Giants’ Eli Manning, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans’ Drew Brees], they’re all Super Bowl MVPs, and I’m not there yet. But I’m going to work as hard as I can to get there.”
He helped the Falcons get to the victory column downright swiftly against the Jaguars. On Atlanta’s very first drive of the night, Ryan was 4-for-4 to four receivers for 57 yards and a touchdown, rookie Julio Jones turning his quarterback’s final completion of the drive into a 29-yard score.
It was vintage Ryan. Nothing terribly dramatic. Every throw on the money. Each completion vastly different from the one before it.
Said former Super Bowl MVP two-time league MVP Kurt Warner: “[The Falcons] wanted to be a team that was all about big plays, but when you watch Matt Ryan play, that’s not the kind of quarterback he is. He’s a very ball-control, methodical type quarterback, very good in rhythm, and that’s what they’ve gotten back to.”
And what were they doing before they got back to allowing Matty Ice to be as quietly efficient as dry ice?
“Early on, I think they were asking Ryan to do too much and do things that were out of character for him,” Warner added.
Repeat the words: “ball-control, methodical type quarterback.”
Now listen to Ryan discuss last week’s come-from-behind victory at Carolina, the one in which the Falcons trailed 23-7 at halftime before rallying to win 31-23.
“That’s not what we wanted to do,” Ryan said. “But that’s kind of a good synopsis of what we’ve done all year — we’ve been inconsistent.”
Not Thursday night, however. Not with the parking lots filling up with tailgaters by 3 p.m. for an 8:20 kickoff. Not with every Falcons player knowing there was no way Atlanta could lose this game and realistically expect to reach the postseason.
So Ryan spread the wealth around on offense, completing 19 passes to six receivers for three touchdowns, 224 yards, no interceptions and a 137.3 quarterback rating.
Said Roddy White, who caught 10 of those passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns: “Matt’s just been more consistent lately, getting everybody involved, just being consistent with every throw. Not much different than always, just a little more consistent than earlier this year.”
And with that consistency, the Falcons are starting to look like the team most expected them to be at season’s dawn, a team capable of challenging the Packers and the Saints for a spot in the Super Bowl as the NFC champion.
Now 9-5 on the season with only a Dec. 26 trip to New Orleans and a New Year’s Day home finale against Tampa Bay still to play, Atlanta is certainly in the favorite’s role to grab a wild-card bid.
Or as Falcons coach Mike Smith said, “We’re one step closer to that 10th win.”
And should they face the world champion and currently perfect Packers somewhere down the playoff road, don’t expect Ryan to ice over at the prospect of facing Green Bay on its frozen tundra.
“That’s a tough task,” Ryan said. “You have to score points and you have to play your very best game. But the great thing about the NFL is you just need to be the best team on the field that day.”
Against the perfect Packers, ball-control and methodical just might be the best way to beat the best.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...