Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman have fourth-quarter magic

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan attempts a pass in the first half of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan attempts a pass in the first half of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com

TAMPA — If recent history is a guide, the NFC South opener for the Falcons and Buccaneers will come down to a fourth-quarter stare down.

While the Falcons have won the past five contests, the games have been excruciatingly close. The division foes, both off to 1-1 starts, will meet at 4:15 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

The contest will pit two of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in the NFL. Both are building solid resumes for leading their teams to victory with fourth-quarter magic.

On Sunday, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman rallied the Bucs from a 17-0 halftime deficit to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 28-24. That night, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan marched his team down the field on two 80-yard drives to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 35-31 at the Georgia Dome.

For Ryan, it was the 14th time that he has led the Falcons to victory in the fourth

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) gets sacked by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (56) during the first quarter of their game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, in Tampa, Fla. AP

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) gets sacked by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (56) during the first quarter of their game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, in Tampa, Fla. AP

 quarter or overtime. For Freeman, it was his eighth such dramatic conquest.

“We are talking about two dynamic quarterbacks in this league that are going to create a great rivalry for years,” Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said.

As a rookie Ryan rallied the Falcons to victory in Green Bay and then followed that by pulling out a victory over Chicago in the final 11 seconds. He has exhibited a Gandhi-like calmness in pressure situations.

“I just think he has so much confidence,” Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said. “Everybody on our sidelines believe it’s going to happen. Regardless of the score, we always have a chance to come back.

“It’s in his body language and his demeanor on the sideline. It’s happened so many times that it’s hard not to believe that the guy has a chance to come back in any situation. It’s just amazing.”

The Bucs have not been Ryan’s only victims, although they appear on his comeback list three times. Last season, the Falcons won seven games in the fourth quarter or overtime on their way to the NFC South title.

“There is nobody on our sidelines or up in the box that doesn’t believe that he’s got the ability to get us in the right situation and get us back in the game,” Mularkey said. “Half of the battle in those situations is believing that you can do it.”

Things were looking pretty bleak for the Falcons against the Eagles, who scored three touchdowns in video game-like fashion in the third quarter.

“We don’t flinch,” Mularkey said. “We had three [consecutive] three-and-outs, and none of our guys came to the sidelines and said, ‘we can’t move the ball.’ There wasn’t one bit of that over the headsets or on the sidelines.”

The Falcons didn’t get frustrated because they had been in so many similar situations with Ryan against a number of good defenses. Two of his fourth-quarter victories are over Green Bay.

“Matt has somehow found a way to lead us to touchdowns when we need them,” Mularkey said. “I think a lot of this is that our guys just believe in him.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith believes that Ryan’s work against the Eagles was superb.

“We got some plays out of Michael Turner on those drives as well, but Matt was at his best in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “It would be hard to even think of him playing [any better] in those two drives.”

Ryan is reluctant to take credit for the late victories.

“There are so many good football teams and seemingly each game comes down to what you do in the fourth quarter,” Ryan said. “It’s not just me with the 14 wins though. We’ve had a lot of guys making plays in that fourth quarter to help us get on top. It’s fun to be around that.”

Ryan was the third player taken in the 2008 NFL draft. Freeman was selected with the 17th pick of the 2009 draft.

Since Freeman broke into the lineup, he has had a flare for pulling off the dramatic victory, too.

“The confidence that surrounds Josh Freeman just carries throughout the team,” Morris said. “He’s calm, he’s poised and he’s clutch. His teammates feel that. They know if they give him a chance, he’ll go out there and win it for them.”

Like Ryan, Freeman’s first fourth-quarter comeback victory came over Green Bay.

“I can’t really attribute the wins to one thing in particular, but we really just think it’s a mentality,” Freeman said. “We try to play as well as we can and we’re never out of the game.”

Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder likes how Freeman operates.

“He’s smart and runs their offense in a calm and effective way,” VanGorder said. “His leadership and calmness, you can feel it throughout the offense.”

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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52 comments Add your comment

Falcons Fan

September 25th, 2011
11:27 am

Man I don’t have a good feeling about this one…..hope I’m wrong.

The Grinch

September 25th, 2011
11:40 am

The only thing that truly worries me is Chris Owens starting again. And Sam Baker. And Garret Reynolds. And Matt Bosher. But otherwise, I think we’ve got a good chance.

Einstein

September 25th, 2011
11:49 am

I think we win today but it won’t be comfortable. Our O-line better step it up or Ryan may not play next week. He’s already hurting, and if he gets hit anymore, he’ll be on the inactive list for Seattle. So if I’m an O-lineman for the Falcons, I make sure I beat the man across from me today. And if Clabo and Baker let a couple rookies beat them to the QB, then they’re not as good as I thought they were.

Defensively, get pressure on Freeman and wrap up when you get to him. Stop Blount. The Bucs haven’t looked good on offense the past 2 weeks but it’s always us that makes an offense look unstoppable.

We’ll see. Falcons win by 7.

senior falcon

September 25th, 2011
11:49 am

Hey Grinch, don’t forget Dunta. Since he can no longer cover people he waits until they catch it and then sticks ‘em.

Einstein

September 25th, 2011
11:54 am

Yeah Dunta Robinson hasn’t had a good day it seems since he’s been with us. He always seems to get burnt. Every pass that’s completed seems to be on his side of the field or in his area. I hardly ever see Grimes getting beat as bad as Dunta and that means Grimes is doing his job.

[...] fourth quarter magic surging through the arms of both the young quarterbacks facing off today in [...]

NagoyaFalcon

September 25th, 2011
12:07 pm

Need our receivers to break out today. Starts with the running game. Turner needs positive yards, smack mouth and then some breakaway scores. The defense needs to bring down
Josh. That means we need tight coverage. Unfortunately, Hayden is hurt. But Freeman seems to crack against us. Who cares about punting, cause if we execute, most likely we won’t punt at all. Tampa is overrated. Falcons 42-6

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

Michael M.

September 25th, 2011
12:44 pm

Dirtybirds Win one at the Bay ! 2-1 and rolling

ueeediot

September 25th, 2011
12:57 pm

Cmon Falcons lets get at them today. Need to put a hurtin on Freeman for that cheap shot he took on Grimes last year.

vesaversa

September 25th, 2011
6:53 pm

Ryan is way overrated he’s a second string QB . But the Offensive line is terrible too they all should be fired at the end of the season.The defensive line need much improvement . After all is said and done the Falcons will go back to their usual place in the NFL being the worst team in the league .And it could be for years to come if Blank doesn’t fire Smith. I know he have had two winning season but Smith style is to conservative and can’t seam to sell that scheme to the his players .

Michael M.

September 25th, 2011
7:35 pm

Why do I feel like Atlanta just throwed that Game away?

bobwhite

September 25th, 2011
7:39 pm

GAME OVER!! We could NOT get it done on our last possession in the red zone..Bone headed call by coach..4th and 3..goes for it instead of field goal with over 12 minutes left!!
Stupid ass offside penality on 4th and inches..knowing T.B. was going to draw them off side!!
Just out played the whole game!

Master Thesis

September 25th, 2011
7:46 pm

Matt Ryan may already be the 4th best QB in the division.

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
7:52 pm

Is there such a thing as a Falcons fan? Really?

Greg

September 25th, 2011
7:53 pm

Now can we get rid of Mularkey?

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
7:53 pm

I don’t think I’ve encountered a true Falcons fan ever. I’m sure the few that thought they were will run for the hills soon. . .

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
7:55 pm

Bahahahaha, Falcons!! Most inept franchise in the history of the NFL. All of Blank’s cash and all the Samuel L. Jackson won’t fix that the franchise is a joke.

hiramsaint

September 25th, 2011
7:55 pm

oh ken strickland–where art thou???????????????

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
7:56 pm

Maybe you can drown your sorrows in the successes of UGA. MABYE NOT!!!!! BAHAHAHAHA!!!

Roddy

September 25th, 2011
8:11 pm

Roddy had 2 critical drops in the 4th quarter. Don’t start this again. Where are the explosive plays? Better not lose in Seattle with Green Bay coming up next!! Could b looking at a 1-4 start.

BirdFanscout

September 25th, 2011
8:15 pm

Ryan needs to show up tomorrow at the Falcon facility and calmly walk up to Sam Baker and hit him in the head with a chair and then ask him how he likes it. Even in the no huddle the DE was blowing by him.

FugitivePoet

September 25th, 2011
8:19 pm

Philyis Kowsloogie: F**K You Troll.

BirdFanscout

September 25th, 2011
8:22 pm

I believe we have a team that has been reading their own headlines. This team has a ton of talent but are making mistakes and losing concentration. Last year we went into a game to fight but we have been on the receiving end of the beatings these 1st 3 games. The bad thing about news articles and headlines are that the other teams are not subscribers and they won’t lay down.

We lost 2 games, now they have to forget them and get back to football. Blocking and tackling!

FugitivePoet

September 25th, 2011
8:22 pm

Oh Matt, Matt, Matt…Roddy, Roddy, Roddy…O Line, O Line, O Line…Overpaid DE, Overpaid DE, Overpaid DE…Wake da f**k up, get vicious and make a play when they count! Damn!

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
8:28 pm

You know what’s really telling? The fact that after the falcons loss there are only like 8 guys commenting on here. $1,000 reward for anyone who can locate a falcons fan. What a joke.

stendek

September 25th, 2011
8:31 pm

Super Bowl contenders do not lose to the Tampa Bay Bucs. SB contenders do not cough the ball up constantly. SB contenders do not fall behind inferior teams by double digit points. SB contenders do not jump offside on a fourth and less than five yards with game on line. SB contenders do not drop certain TD passes on consistent basis. SB contenders do not settle for FGs out of habit. What does it all mean? Atlanta Falcons are in no way, shape or form a SB contender. Not even division hopefuls. Those are just the facts!

stendek

September 25th, 2011
8:32 pm

Am I guy #9?

stendek

September 25th, 2011
8:33 pm

Roddy White drops as many passes as Illya Kovalchuk used to misfire on wide open nets! One is gone from Atlanta! Other one may be soon.

FugitivePoet

September 25th, 2011
8:34 pm

Punk-sutawney Phil: Climb back in your f**king hole you gutless troll.

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
8:35 pm

Yeah, you’re number 9. 53+9=62. Georgia Dome should kill it at the next home game.

stendek

September 25th, 2011
8:35 pm

Matt Ryan has regressed since his roiokie season! That is a fact. There are no excuses. A better defense would have intercepted that long rainbow lollipop toss to Julio Jones. Three first half giveaways beneath even a rookie! No more excuses. Sorry is as sorry does!

Ted

September 25th, 2011
8:38 pm

What a great day! The Braves and the Falcons both lost!

stendek

September 25th, 2011
8:38 pm

Apologists cry Michael Sick should be given a break. New York Giants gave thug jailkbird one! Broken hand should have been neck instead. Heard dog torturer whining after Eagle loss. What a sorry sack of ****! Always has been Always has been! Real team player. Now 1-2? There is some justice!

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
8:39 pm

Hey FugitivePoet – YOU may qualify as a falcons fan!!! You actually CARE that they lost. Amazing!!

stendek

September 25th, 2011
8:39 pm

Forgive all typos. Cannot type when pi$$ed. I am pi$$ed now!

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
8:41 pm

But just to be sure, FugitivePoet, a quick question a TRUE falcons fan could answer. . .

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
8:42 pm

How many Superbowls have the falcons won?

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
8:44 pm

Nevermind, ANY NFL fan could answer that. ITS OBVIOUS!!! ZERO!!!! ZERO SUPERBOWLS!!! In 45 years. ZERO!!!!

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
8:45 pm

Next year will be different tho. I can feel it. RISE UP!!!

CandiceCandy

September 25th, 2011
9:15 pm

U mean to tell me da FALCONS lost???

CandiceCandy

September 25th, 2011
9:15 pm

really???/ as much $hit as dey talk…

CandiceCandy

September 25th, 2011
9:17 pm

@Phil…thats a good one bro!!!!!

CandiceCandy

September 25th, 2011
9:19 pm

itz funny that all da falcon fans have suddenly disappeared…lol

CandiceCandy

September 25th, 2011
9:21 pm

OMG…where have they went..CANT FACE DA MUSIC HA???

CandiceCandy

September 25th, 2011
9:22 pm

TALK MAJOR $$$$ ON OTHER BLOGS BUT CANT FACE DA MUSIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jordan

September 25th, 2011
9:43 pm

Phil Kalawalahoogie

September 25th, 2011
10:03 pm

@CandiceCancy – No doubt, bro. You’ve given the Falcons more love tonite then their other 8 fans combined.

WhoDat4Eva

September 25th, 2011
10:03 pm

The Falcants will finish 8-8