FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has made a habit of dragging his team from the fire and carrying it to victory.
He earned his nickname “Matty Ice” in college, and his flair for dramatic comeback victories has continued in the NFL. Over his 58-game NFL career, he has posted 15 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
He has posted comeback wins against Philadelphia and Carolina this season.
But against Houston last weekend, his pass into the end zone as the buzzer sounded hit Julio Jones’ hands before falling harmlessly incomplete. There would be no thrilling comeback, and the Falcons went down 17-10 to the upstart Houston Texans.
“We always expect to win in those types of situations,” Ryan said. “As many mistakes as we made, we still had a chance, and that’s what it’s all about, having a chance at the end of the game. We just didn’t get it done.”
It was just that kind of day for Ryan, who finished with his fourth-lowest passer rating (50.6) of his career. Ryan completed 20 of 47 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown and threw two interceptions.
Before the Houston game, Ryan had passed for 1,204 yards and nine touchdowns and had only two interceptions in the previous four games. He had his highest passer rating (128.2) of the season in the game before, against Minnesota on Nov. 27.
As the Falcons enter the fourth quarter of the regular season, Ryan hopes to rebound from the Houston game.
“That’s part of the deal,” Ryan said. “There’s going to be weeks when you don’t play as well as you would like to. In this league, it’s all about how you respond. It’s all about how you bounce back.
“Having that mental toughness, to be able to put those kind of things behind you and not let them kind of lurk around the locker room, lurk around in your head, that’s part of being a professional. So that’s going to be my mindset.”
The Falcons have juggled players along the line this season. They’ve used four different starting lineups because the left tackle and center spots have been unsettled with surgeries to Todd McClure (knee) and Sam Baker (back). At right guard, they’ve switched starters from Garrett Reynolds to Joe Hawley for personnel reasons.
Ryan’s protection has suffered.
He has been hit 65 times, which is the sixth-highest total in the league. Only Seattle (89), St. Louis (88), Washington (84), Miami (71) and Cleveland (68) have given up more quarterback hits. The line has given up 22 sacks, which is 21st in the league.
“That was a good defense that we went against [in Houston],” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “We did move the ball. We were a little inconsistent. Once we get that inconsistency out, we’re a good football team, a really good offense, and we know it. We just have to go out there and do it.”
Ryan, a student of the game, hasn’t changed the way he prepares.
“He comes in here on Tuesdays, and he’s already got a lot of the plan figured out before he has to come in here and hear it from us,” offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said. “He already knows what’s going on. Now, when he’s meeting with other players, it’s like meeting with a coach.”
Despite the poor showing in Houston, which included Ryan overthrowing open receivers on deep passes and several dropped passes by his receivers, the Falcons are pleased with his play this season.
“Matt has done a lot of good things, especially with our no-huddle situations,” Mularkey said. “He’s done a great job. He just knows what’s going on with everybody right now. He’s in total command of the field.”
Gonzalez is a solid backer of the quarterback.
“One thing about Matt, he’s in his fourth year now. I think he’s figured this game out,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t have to say too much to him. I don’t think anybody else does either. He knows exactly what he wants to get accomplished. Where he failed and where he succeeded and what he can improve on. He’s a self-check type of guy.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog