FLOWERY BRANCH — About the time that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was working his late-game magic at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, some NFL drama was unfolding in Tampa.
Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, in the last 1 minute, 42 seconds, drove his Redskins into field-goal position at Raymond James Stadium for a game-winning field goal, too.
For Ryan, it was the 17th time that he has led the Falcons to victory in the fourth quarter or overtime. For Griffin, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor, it was his first dramatic win.
Ryan and Griffin, who rank first and second in the NFC in passer rating, will face off when the undefeated Falcons (4-0) face the Redskins (2-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
With the Falcons backed up at their 1-yard line, with no timeouts and 59 seconds left on the clock, Ryan remained calm — as he’s done in the past.
He tried to encourage his teammates in the huddle and set into motion a well-thought out plan that required great blocking and an acrobatic catch by wide receiver Roddy White on a 59-yard gain to keep the Falcons in business.
“You have to have the belief that regardless of how games shake out, if you keep it close, you have a chance to win,” Ryan said. “You can’t flinch.”
Ryan’s five-play, 77-yard drive set up Matt Bryant for a 40-yard field goal that carried the Falcons to a 30-28 victory.
Ryan is performing at a high level this season, as he has completed 102 of 147 pass attempts (69.4 percent) for 1,162 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions for an NFL-best 112.1 passer rating.
“Matt is coming into his own,” said Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a former Falcon. “He looks like the guy [the Falcons] thought he would be all along. He’s playing at an MVP-caliber level right now.”
Ryan, who has the Falcons positioned nicely to reach 5-0 for the first time in franchise history, doesn’t want to make too much of his super start nor this early MVP talk.
“After four games, you can’t worry about those things,” Ryan said. “I don’t really worry about it too much ever really. The biggest thing for me is to play well every week and do what we need to do to get a win. Other than that, I try not to pay attention to it.”
The charismatic Griffin had to overcome some additional adversity against the Buccaneers. The communication system in his helmet stopped working on the Redskins’ final drive.
In just his fourth game in the NFL, he called his own plays while leading the Redskins 56 yards in six plays to get them into position for Billy Cundiff’s 41-yard game-winning field goal.
“It was kind of weird that it went out at that point in the game on the road, but … we had to make it work,” Griffin said. “[Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan] tried to signal things into me when he could. We made it work, and we went and won the game.”
Since the fifth game of his career, Ryan often has dragged the Falcons to victory with his heroics. In his first comeback win, he guided the Falcons to a 27-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Oct. 5, 2008.
The following week, he pulled out a game against Chicago with 11 seconds remaining.
“You can’t worry about what happened the first three and a half quarters of that game,” Ryan said. “You just have to go out there and execute when you have the opportunity to. That’s always the mindset that I’ve tried to take.”
The Redskins have hitched their wagon to Griffin after taking him with the second pick in the 2012 draft. They traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up in the draft to get Griffin, an athletic blend of runner and passer.
“He’s been playing good,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He’s not handling himself like a rookie. He’s handling himself like a veteran. That’s quite unusual at the quarterback position.”
The Redskins like the early results.
“We are pleased with the way he’s played and how he’s handled himself,” Shanahan said. “He’s an extremely hard worker. He’s very professional, and he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do.”
Much like what the Falcons did for Ryan when he was a rookie, the Redskins have tailored their offense to fit Griffin’s skills.
“You have to do what the quarterback likes and what he does well,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. “You have to really accentuate those things. You’re going to see elements [of what he did at Baylor.] An occasional read-option, an occasional designed quarterback run because this kid is special with the ball in his hands.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a way to go to climb the list of quarterbacks with the most comebacks on game-winning drives. Here’s a look at the this:
1. Peyton Manning (1998-2012)+36
2. Dan Marino (1983-99)+36
3. John Elway (1983-98)+35
4. Joe Montana (1979-94)+31
5. Brett Favre (1991-2010)+30
5. Fran Tarkenton (1961-78)+30
Quarterback Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to victory in the fourth quarter or overtime 17 times.
Date Opponent Score
Oct. 5, 2008+Green Bay+27-24
Oct. 12, 2008+Chicago+22-20
Dec. 14, 2008+Tampa Bay*+13-10
Dec. 28, 2008+St. Louis+31-27
Oct. 18, 2009+Chicago+21-14
Dec. 20, 2009+N.Y. Jets+10-7
Jan. 3, 2010+Tampa Bay+20-10
Sept. 26, 2010+New Orleans*+27-24
Oct. 3, 2010+San Francisco+16-14
Oct. 24, 2010+Cincinnati+39-32
Nov. 11, 2010+Baltimore+26-21
Nov. 28, 2010+Green Bay+20-17
Dec. 5, 2010+Tampa Bay+28-24
Sept. 18, 2011+Philadelphia+35-31
Oct. 16, 2011+Carolina+31-17
Dec. 11, 2011+Carolina+31-23
Sept. 30, 2012+Carolina+30-28
*denotes game winning drive in overtime