Ryan shows rust in return but leads victory in the end

Matt Ryan completed only 16 of 34 passes for 152 yards in his return, but went 6 for 9 in the Falcons' winning drive. (AP photo)

Matt Ryan completed only 16 of 34 passes for 152 yards in his return, but went 6 for 9 in the Falcons' winning drive. (AP photo)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After a week punctuated by more news of players and their mind-altering substances, the forecast of a blizzard for their upcoming road trip and then life-support finally being pulled on their playoff hopes, the Falcons didn’t project for a real uplifting finish to this season.

Fortunately, they had two things going for them Sunday: 1) They were playing the New York Jets, opponent of opportunity (they botched three field goals); 2) Matt Ryan kind of has something to prove.

Ryan was not good for most of Sunday. One reason was the wind, which often turned passes into knuckleballs. The other reason was nearly three weeks of inactivity, which helped turn an already struggling quarterback into a pedestrian one. (Ryan’s numbers before the Falcons’ final possession: 10 for 25, 115 yards.)

But you can tell a lot about a guy by how he finishes when misery is all around him — and what we see from the Falcons and Ryan in these final three games will go a long way toward what we think about the team and their franchise centerpiece going into the offseason.

Ryan provided a memory Sunday. How long had it been?

He completed five of his first six passes in the final drive and later drilled a fourth-down, six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez with 1:38 left in the game, giving the Falcons a 10-7 win over the Jets in the Meadowlands.

Is it cause for a parade? No.

Does it make up for the losses at Carolina or Dallas or the Giants, or certainly that comatose showing at home against Philadelphia? Hardly.

But how much would you be wondering about Ryan and the Falcons right now if they looked as anemic on that last drive as they did for most of Sunday?

Tony Gonzalez was ecstatic after the Jets' defense left him some room in the end zone for the winning touchdown. (AP photo)

Tony Gonzalez was ecstatic after the Jets' defense left him some room in the end zone for the winning touchdown. (AP photo)

“You can tell a lot from a game like today about a guy’s character,” center Todd McClure said. “When you’re not playing for the playoffs, it’s easy to just mail it in. Nobody did that today.”

That wasn’t an option, not for the Falcons (who at 7-7 still have a shot at a second straight winning season) and certainly not Ryan. He missed the last two games with turf toe. He took only 25 percent of the snaps in practice last week. Factor in the lingering effects of the injury (he wore a walking boot again after the game), the weather and the Jets’ defense (ranked No. 1 in yardage and points allowed), and Ryan at times Sunday was giving Falcons’ fans Joey Harrington-flashbacks.

But he wasn’t Harrington in the end. On fourth-and-goal from the six, Ryan ignored a thrown snowball that fell just to his left and fired a laser to the open Gonzalez. The Jets inexplicably were in soft zone coverage near the goal line, giving the Falcons’ obvious No. 1 receiving option way too much cushion.

Gonzalez’s reaction to the defensive call: “Oh my God.”

It’s the ending Ryan wanted, and needed.

Coach Mike Smith decided after warm-ups that Ryan would start. “You could tell Matt was pumped,” McClure said. “He started head-butting everybody.”

Ryan said, “It’s tough when you’re out for a couple of weeks. There’s nothing like playing a game.”

Smith said he thought his quarterback looked “rusty.” But he expected that.

Ryan didn’t use that word. “Not too bad,” he said of his performance. “There were some throws I would’ve liked to have made better. But that’s every game. My rhythm felt good. My timing felt good.”

Actually, timing on the field looked like it could have been better, although the wind played havoc in the passing game. The timing in the big picture was perfect. The Falcons had lost four out of their last five to drop to 6-7. Jonathan Babineaux’s embarrassing arrest report for felony marijuana possession, and Eric Weems’ DUI arrest report, both became public during the week. Then Dallas upset New Orleans Saturday night, ending a long-shot playoff scenario.

McClure: “The one time we need the Saints to win, they lose.”

And how’s this for a drought? Ryan hadn’t started and finished a win since Nov. 8 against Washington. No wonder it seemed like a while.

Ryan and the Falcons finish up with Buffalo and Tampa Bay. The shot at a 9-7 record and at least some sense of accomplishment is real. It’s not nearly at the level anybody expected. But things looked a whole lot worse before that last pass.

235 comments Add your comment

timboy

December 20th, 2009
7:29 pm

Just need to win these two we should win and the season can still be somewhat sucessful and something to build on.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
7:30 pm

Ice Ice Baby, Do Do Do dodododo Ice Ice Baby.

Fair and Balanced

December 20th, 2009
7:31 pm

LMAO…..so predictable.

Real American

December 20th, 2009
7:33 pm

“Moral” victory. So does every Falcon player get a certificate and lil trophy at the end of the season like they do for the pop warner teams?

falcondawg

December 20th, 2009
7:35 pm

The big difference was the better than usual pass rush.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
7:36 pm

Yep, Matty Ice, even though he was hurting, and the only thing he was playing for is pride and a chance to break the curse, leads the team to victory. It is pretty predictable.

NWFan

December 20th, 2009
7:36 pm

It was nice to see a dominant corner today, too bad it was for the Jets. Maybe its time for TD to get over his ego and decide the DBs on the team aren’t starting caliber.

Today was a good reminder of how patience is key for coaching,I woulod have gone ballsitic out there, they would have to haul me off in a paddy wagon

Reid Adair

December 20th, 2009
7:43 pm

Today was another example of how this organization has turned it around and gotten things headed in the right direction. Prior to 2008, the Falcons would have folded, with the weather conditions and the struggling offense.

But this team didn’t. The defense continued to make plays when they had too (yes, New York missed three field goals – but the Falcons blocked one of them). And when it mattered most, the offense moved right down the field and scored the game-winning touchdown.

gabeaux

December 20th, 2009
7:51 pm

These guys show a lot of pride and don’t give up. They’ll only get better.

Jimmy

December 20th, 2009
7:51 pm

Ryan didn’t play well.
He played well enough for the Falcons to win.
He lead them on a game winning drive.
He made a perfect pass on 4th and goal for the winning TD.
So now Ryan has TWO clutch wins under his belt.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
7:52 pm

I have to agree Red, two more games to go. Let beat the curse!! It is a little empty, but after 40 years, it would have some meaning.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
7:53 pm

They had little to play for, on the road, in horrible weather, against a team fighting for the playoffs. Your fathers falcons do not win that game.

Knowledge

December 20th, 2009
7:53 pm

This game was extremely frustrating on the offensive side until Tony stood up in the endzone with the ball in his hand. For most of the day the offense looked stagnant at best. I am glad that we were finally able to pull out a close and gritty victory. The defense looked alright, however I believe that Mark Sanchise was a major reason why the defense looked so good. As usual the linebackers and each safety played well, but the rest of the defense was still searching for an identity. I am relieved that the team got a win, and I hope they can take care of business at the Dome and Raymond James in the following weeks.

Pete

December 20th, 2009
7:54 pm

Ryan was……………………Ryan.

He doesn’t like losing.

Jimmy

December 20th, 2009
7:55 pm

Reid,
I agree. This organization is different.
Even if we don’t break the curse this year, I am proud of this team.
Previous Falcons teams might have cashed it in with all the injuries.
But not this team.
These players, some undersized, inexperienced, and just not the best talent…these players played hard.
They didn’t give up.
There was no quit in them today.
I’m proud of them.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
7:55 pm

Props to the little guy for getting 2 pics.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
7:56 pm

One thing this proves, Mike Smith still has this team.

FalconUGAFan

December 20th, 2009
7:57 pm

Not a “moral” victory. A victory, pure and simple. This isn’t a Super Bowl team, but maybe its a team that won’t embarrass us. We aren’t the Steelers, but maybe we aren’t the Falcons of old either. Again, a win when we needed one. Go Falcons!

BTW if you don’t like the Falcons, feel free to move along.

Jimmy

December 20th, 2009
7:57 pm

Mr. Charlie,

Beating that curse is EVERYTHING this year.
It is more important than going to the playoffs.
Beating the curse has a TON of meaning.
I don’t think this team or its fans can truly take the next step until we do.

Falcons Obit

December 20th, 2009
7:58 pm

So this is a self-esteem boost type game. OK.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
8:04 pm

Jimmy, generally I am not a big fan of moral victories in the NFL…..but you may be right. If we flub one of these games, it is SOS, if we take care of business against two floundering teams, well, we will have turned a corner.

Joe Flacco

December 20th, 2009
8:04 pm

Thanks for not drafting me guys.

I’m headed to my 2nd straight playoffs.

FalconUGAFan

December 20th, 2009
8:05 pm

@Falcons Obit Well if you need the boost feel free to use it…

Dr. Phil

December 20th, 2009
8:06 pm

People should lighten up on the Falcons. They pulled out a great win when they could have rolled over and died and would have done just that in the past.

Jimmy

December 20th, 2009
8:06 pm

Joe Flacco:
Don’t mention it.
When you actually do something worthy to EARN your trip to the playoffs,
we might care.

pilgrim

December 20th, 2009
8:06 pm

Going for the draft pick rather than the win is like squirting lighter fluid on steak to save on charcoal. It may get done quicker, put it sure tastes kinda funny.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
8:09 pm

Actually, if the Falcons choke today, Flacco is not going to the playoffs….Think of the Irony.

Mr Charlie

December 20th, 2009
8:10 pm

The day of wanting low draft picks is over. All you do is overpay, the best place to be choosing is in the later teens, mid 20s…..Look at the Partriots, Indy, then look at Detroit….I rest my case.

Jimmy

December 20th, 2009
8:11 pm

Mr. Charlie,

This franchise has been through hell.
The fans have been through hell.
When franchise beats the curse, we will have turned a corner.
Symbolically and psychologically, beating the curse is huge.
GIven that we own one of the most infamous streaks in pro sports,
We need to beat the curse to complete the transformation of the club.

Rick

December 20th, 2009
8:12 pm

Falcon teams in the past would find a way to lose a close game in the closing minutes.
This group is altogether different. Say what you want about The G.M. and the secondary but I believe I believe in the direction of the team.
Would the DB’s look better if the D-line got pressure on the QB?
If our 1st round pick stays healthy maybe the d-line is better.
Alot of “ifs”
you know what they say about “ifs”
If my Aunt had balls shed be my Uncle.
Go Falcons I will be there for the final home game

Jimmy

December 20th, 2009
8:14 pm

Pilgrim:
Excellent observation!!!

Mr Charlie,
Yes…I agree on the overpaying of high draft picks.
Good argument.
Draft picks are a crap shoot.
Always have been.
I’d rather sign free agents and fill the depth with draft picks.
We may get lucky on a 4th rounder and a get a star player, too.

Jimmy

December 20th, 2009
8:16 pm

Rick,
But that “if” is a valid point.
A team in the second year of rebuilding
who has been through what the Falcs have,
just will not have the depth needed to overcome injuries.
What this team has done this year is amazing.

Matt "Choke" Ryan

December 20th, 2009
8:16 pm

I take back everything I’ve ever said after watching this game. Ryan is a true leader. He was cold as ice tossing that game-winning TD on 4th down, even with Jets fans throwing snowballs at him.

Meanwhile, my former hero, Mike Doggykilla Vick, only had 2 carries for 2 yards and left the game with an injury. He probably aggravated some body part that got shanked in prison.

I’m such a pathetic moron. :-/

ray

December 20th, 2009
8:20 pm

I dont care what all the Falcon haters say I am still proud of this team and proud to be a Falcon fan.Nothing you say will change that so please stop wasting your breath and my time and go somewhere else.This team is heading in the right direction and we are only in the secound year of rebuilding. We will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.GO FALCONS WE ARE PROUD OF YOU!

Rick

December 20th, 2009
8:21 pm

I think that Mr. Dimittroff has done a great job of addressing the teams needs in the the draft.
You build thru the draft, get the young guys and groom them to your system.
add in some free agents for depth.
The guy can only do so much in 2 years and imo he has done great.
Foxworth WAS NOT & IS NOT worth the money he got in Baltimore

Matt "Choke" Ryan

December 20th, 2009
8:26 pm

when i is wrong , i say i is wrong. Matt Ryan , you da man!
I am taking off my mv7 undies and puttin up a Ryan poster.
I love you Matt Ryan.
You are what a foot ball player should be like. A Man

[...] Matt Ryan completed only 16 of 34 passes for 152 yards in his return, but went 6 for 9 in the Falcons’ winning drive. (AP photo) EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — After a week punctuated by more news of players and their mind-altering substances, the forecast of a …Read Original Story: Ryan shows rust in return but leads victory in the end – Atlanta Journal … [...]

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 20th, 2009
8:30 pm

Gonzo’s ability to suck in a majority of Ryans’ passes tells me:

He gets open more than any other receiver.
Offensive line is porous to the point Matty can’t look down field.
His YAC puts him at the top of the targets list.
His pass catching ability means we sacrifice stretching the field
to his side by having him get into routes instead of blocking.

I truely feel this HOFer has impeted the franchise player’s growth.

Joe Flacco

December 20th, 2009
8:36 pm

Guys did you see how my deep ball was past the usual 20 yards to the tight end you are used to?

I know you guys were like “is the ball supposed to be thrown that far”?

Hey Matty when are going to win a playoff game? Madden doesn’t count.

tjhook_76544

December 20th, 2009
8:39 pm

I want to give a great shoutout to the Falcons’ defense today. Great intensity in a hostile area. I enjoyed the win because it told me this team takes the game seriously. Now if we can only get our coordinators to improve their schemes. Mularkey get a hooray for using other players as backwash to free up Roddy White as a playmaker but he needs to sit down with Ryan and make sure our quarterback becomes more diversified in his passing choices. Ryan bails out too often when he is looking downfield. Rothleisberger is the standard when it comes to waiting on an opportunity; Chris Chandler used to do it for the Falcons. Ryan needs to learn that or we will not make the jump to serious contenders. We have talent to make plays- we just need a quarterback who is savvy enough to let the athletes work their way open.

Take the Buyout

December 20th, 2009
8:40 pm

The Falcons score a gutsy win over a playoff contender on the road in lousy conditions with lots of injuries, and this is the best you can do?

I’m not sure if the memo has reached your desk yet, but football teams do consist of more players than the quarterback. No mention of Turner being hurt again. No mention of Norwood limping off and coming back in. No mention of a defense that pitched a shutout with the exception of one play.

You did manage to work in the 2 arrests last week. Good for you. Gotta keep that hard-hitting independent journalist cred.

After reading the last paragraph of your column, it seems pretty obvious you were pulling for a Falcons’ loss so you could unleash more of your knee jerk putdowns and clever sarcasm.

Too bad the Falcons went and messed up your intended observations. The professional perils of the hard working, hard hitting sports columnist.

dawg 4 u

December 20th, 2009
8:40 pm

I am encouraged by the Falcon win today and maybe now we can break the curse of no back to back winning seasons. Even though Tampa Bay has been terrible this year I am concerned because the Falcons have never really played well at Raymond James stadium. The road is definitely easier now though having gotten past the Jets with the Bills and Bucs left.

Barkin'Dog

December 20th, 2009
8:41 pm

Mr Charlie — One thing this proves, Mike Smith still has this team.

Right on!! Mike is building a TEAM! One mission, to win as a team, regardless of how it looks to fans. One thing’s for sure…. I’m glad Mike Smith is here and not Jim Mora (see another Seattle loss – TB looking a little more formitable though, our last opponent)… or Petrino the hog, for that matter.

Another draft and few free agents and this team will play for all the marbles soon. No one thought the Falcons would have a great season this year, with the changes on defense and especially the injuries. I agree with a few bloggers earlier, though, Michael Turner needs to be rested the rest of the way. We’ll need him next season in one big piece. Speaking of which, Peace to all and to all a good night.

Jim Harbaugh

December 20th, 2009
8:44 pm

I’m 2-2 in taking my teams to the playoffs.

What’s up Smitty?

37YearBravesFan

December 20th, 2009
8:45 pm

This team has character, in spite of having characters (on the team). I am proud of them. They didn’t quit today.

GO FALCONS!!!

jerry

December 20th, 2009
8:46 pm

Never having 2 consecutive winning seasons is definitely a curse. It has absolutely nothing to do with lousy teams. Only an idiot would think it does.

trade bait

December 20th, 2009
8:54 pm

why when i load up AJC the first thing i see is vick hurt…..last time i checked he played for the eagles and the falcons showed some guts today but 2nd fiddle on your site….why not put a spy on vick and report on every time he uses the bathroom…..it is really digusting journalism looking for readership (probably get banned)

Gone Gator

December 20th, 2009
9:01 pm

What’s up with those empty seats and the snowballs at the end of the game Jeff?
Does the media in NY call out their fans or is that just an ATL thing?

The Grinch

December 20th, 2009
9:04 pm

Yes, less Vick talk and more Falcons talk would be welcome.

If we can get a real left tackle next year, the return of Douglas will make a major impact on the offense. We could also use a change of pace back like Norwood only one who can play. I can’t Be-LIEVE that guy was an every down back in the SEC; he goes down faster than Chris Mortensen on Brett Farve.

However, I have high hopes for this franchise for many tears to come; They’re fighting with almost no ammo so when they get some they’ll be a force.

The Grinch

December 20th, 2009
9:05 pm

Years, not tears…Freudian slip