Since 2008, Matt Ryan has gone from being a semi-embraced, first-round draft pick (remember Glenn Dorsey?), to a franchise savior (playoffs!), to just pretty good, to having questionable arm strength, to being an opening week loser to Dennis Dixon in Pittsburgh, to mounting doubts about his career and one NFL media outlet whispering that the Falcons were “having doubts” about him.
So did the room just stop spinning?
If Ryan cemented neither his legacy nor the Falcons’ fate this season, he at least calmed nerves and muzzled critics Sunday.
He threw a touchdown pass on the Falcons’ first possession. He was the model of efficiency, completing 21 of 32 passes for 225 yards, three touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Ryan and the Falcons did what good quarterbacks and good teams are supposed to do: They followed a fizzle on opening week at Pittsburgh with a dominating performance over an overmatched opponent: 444 yards in offense and a 41-7 body slam of Arizona at the Georgia Dome.
Now he’s the greatest quarterback in the history of the world again.
When Ryan was asked how he handled the week, with doubts swirling around for really the first time in his career, he responded: “The biggest thing is to remain consistent in your routine. In this position, there’s going to be a lot thrown at you. You need to have tunnel vision and remain focused on what’s important, and the big thing is understanding what’s important.”
Then he added, as if confirming the tunnel vision: “To be honest I didn’t hear too much about it. So that probably helped.”
Let’s be clear about something: Ryan wasn’t awful in Pittsburgh. He just wasn’t as good as he needed to be.
As Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said, including Ryan in this analysis: “There was a sense of urgency we didn’t have in the Pittsburgh game. We have high expectations and we need to back it up with that sense of want and urgency that we talked about in the offseason.”
Ryan took charge Sunday. Granted, nobody would confuse the Cardinals’ defense with the Steelers’. But Ryan was significantly better, even after losing his starting running back (Michael Turner) and a backup (Jerious Norwood). He found wide receiver Roddy White on second-and-goal from the Cards’ seven for the first touchdown. He completed five of seven passes and drew an interference call on the second touchdown (a pass underneath coverage to the NFL’s sudden Fantasy League hero Jason Snelling).
Early in the third quarter, just three plays after rookie William Moore’s interception set up the Falcons at the Arizona 14, Ryan fired a bullet into the end zone for Brian Finneran to increase the lead to 31-7. That pretty much shut the door on this one, and presumably it also will smother some of the nonsense for now.
Earlier in the week, the NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi reported that some within the Falcons’ organization were “having doubts” about Ryan. (Noteworthy: Lombardi also reported in the offseason that the Falcons were in trade talks with San Diego for linebacker Shawne Merriman, which proved baseless.)
Dimitroff smiled when asked about the Ryan report. “All I can tell you is it didn’t come from myself or Mike Smith,” he said. “Do I need to say anything else?”
He did: “It’s ridiculous to think there’s concerns.”
Teammates noticed no difference in Ryan’s preparation during the week. White said: “When people said they were doubting him, I was like, ‘Off one game?’ I don’t know the last time somebody scored 30-something points on the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
Dimitroff said Ryan’s reaction to the relative tumult confirmed what the Falcons thought of him before the draft.
“Matt knows this is an ever-evolving stage and he isn’t affected by it, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted him as our quarterback,” he said. “We know there are growing pains in the NFL, and those growing pains don’t stop in year two.”
At least we know it will be a quieter week.