(UPDATED AT 11:30 p.m.)
During his four years at Boston College, Matt Ryan watched Tom Brady win a Super Bowl, go through a regular season undefeated, throw for 50 touchdown passes, win an NFL MVP award and be named AP athlete of the year — all of which, of course, took a backseat to marrying Gisele Bundchen.
As the Falcons’ quarterback said earlier in the week, “It is impossible not to see him when you live in Boston because of his star power.”
It was impossible not to notice that star power Thursday night. Ryan, who has the potential to rank among the league’s elite quarterbacks one day, went against Brady, who has been there for about nine years and three Super Bowls now.
It was only an exhibition. But Brady remains on a level that Ryan — and others not named Manning — strive to reach. Ryan played three series in an exhibition against New England with some efficiency: 8-for-13 for 76 yards. Brady played three series and was a little better: 10-for-12 for 85 yards.
Ryan led one field-goal drive.
Brady led two touchdown drives.
There’s the difference.
New England won 28-10. Now, it’s dangerous to over-evaluate preseason games. Sometimes it’s dangerous to give any weight to them. Coaches don’t scheme. Veterans don’t play hard. Sometimes they don’t play at all.
But it’s safe to say it’s at least of some concern that the Falcons’ first-team offense has had five possessions in two exhibition games and has produced only two field goals (with two misses) and zero touchdowns.
“We’ve moved the ball really well,” Ryan said. “We just haven’t been able to capitalize on many drives.”
When asked how much weight should be given to the Falcons’ first-team defense not getting into the end zone, Ryan said: “I don’t think a lot. When we come into these things, we don’t game plan a lot. We watch basically zero tape. It’s an extension of training camp. We’re working on some different things, trying to improve on route combinations and stuff, seeing what we like and don’t like, what we want to take to the regular season. That’s probably a little bit different from the past two years, and I know it’s different for me. That’s going to be beneficial for us throughout the year.”
Does Ryan have an itch to get into the end zone in the third exhibition at Miami next Friday?
“No doubt,” he said.
There is little question the Patriots are ready for the season. Their offensive line dominated up Falcons, leaving Brady and running back Fred Taylor (28-yard touchdown run) to have fun shredding every misdirected body behind the line. Even if the Patriots’ second touchdown was a bit of a gift — the result of a phantom roughing-the-kicker penalty by Chevis Jackson on a field-goal attempt that extended a New England drive — that seemed like an afterthought, given the way New England functioned.
Ryan said he probably watched Brady “a little more tonight” than he did in last year’s regular season meeting, when he was more preoccupied with the game.
“It also was great just to watch him this week in practice,” he said. “There’s no mystery as to why he has been as good as he’s been. He works really hard and he’s diligent at what he does.”
Ryan has decent numbers in two games: 11-for-19 for 110 yards. He also was victimized by a Tony Gonzalez drop near the Pats’ 15. But two field goals in five possessions is not comforting.
“We start fast, move the ball to the plus side of the 50 and then we stall out,” coach Mike Smith said.
This has the chance to be a special season for the Falcons. All other factors notwithstanding, how far the Falcons go this season hinges on Ryan.
Let’s be clear: He did not have a bad season last year. He just didn’t live up to probably unrealistic expectations following his phenomenal rookie season, when he led the Falcons to the playoffs with an 11-5 record. Key numbers dropped off: completion percentage (61.1 to 58.3) and passing yardage (3,440 to 2,916).
He threw for more touchdowns (22 to 16), but also had more interceptions (14 to 11). But in Ryan’s defense, the Falcons had a lot more injury problems than the season before (Ryan himself had turf toe), and a down season by running back Michael Turner hurt the offense.
Few doubt that Ryan will evolve into one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose team practiced in Flowery Branch this week, indicates he’s headed in that direction. As Belichick said, “We saw [New Orleans quarterback Drew] Brees last week, and we’ll see Ryan this week. That’s about as tough as it’s going to get. They are as good as anybody in this league.”
Ryan understands he’ll be the difference in the Falcons this season. Most quarterbacks are. The key? It’s not to play Brady’s style. It’s merely to play like Brady.
“The biggest thing that you may try to emulate is his consistency, not his throwing motion or footwork,” he said. “He has had a level of consistency that is evident year in and year out, week in and week out. That is the number one thing I would try to do that he does.”
When he gets there, so will the Falcons.
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