Ryan leads Falcons and finally takes center stage over Vick

Matt Ryan threw four touchdown passes and led the Falcons to win over Michael Vick and the Eagles. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Matt Ryan threw four touchdown passes and led the Falcons to one of their biggest wins with him as their starting quarterback -- over Michael Vick and the Eagles. (Jason Getz/AJC)

When Matt Ryan became a Falcon on draft day in 2008, Michael Vick was sitting in a prison cell at Leavenworth. So there was no ceremonial passing of the torch. Maybe just an easing of Arthur Blank’s headache.

To Ryan, Vick has been only a shadow, a ghost, a name he hears in press conferences. But the reminders have been constant, particularly with Vick’s remarkable rebirth in Philadelphia, and the biggest question going into Sunday night was how Ryan would handle his predecessor’s return.

“To me, having not been here and having not played with him and understanding how difficult it is to play regardless of what the circumstances are in this league, I wouldn’t allow myself to get caught up in it,” Ryan said late Sunday night.

Was it really that easy? Or is this just one of those things where we’ll never really know how much it has bothered him? No matter. Even if Vick’s first start against the Falcons — and against Ryan — stirred fans and maybe some members of the organization (Blank?) into a far greater frenzy than Ryan, this much is certain: The exorcism is complete. The Falcons didn’t just beat  Philadelphia, 35-31. They beat Vick.

Ryan beat Vick.

Yes, we are reminded constantly it’s all about team. Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and so many others certainly played key roles in this game. But Ryan is the face of this team. A team that used to be Vick’s, in a city that used to be Vick’s, in a league that used to Vick’s 24/7 — and recently it seems like it is all over again.

If the Falcons had lost, Ryan’s face would’ve been targeted for most of the pies. That’s just the way it works in football,  and certainly in Atlanta, given the backdrop.

It wasn’t nearly the best game of Ryan’s career. But in some ways, it might’ve been the most impressive. The Falcons had flat-lined. Ryan had two interceptions. The air had gone out of the offense and the building. Ryan was getting hammered behind an ever-collapsing offensive line. Philadelphia had turned a 21-10 deficit into a 31-21 lead. Even with Vick now on the sideline and looking woozy, the game appeared over late in the third quarter. Vick would win again, just as he did as a backup in the Georgia Dome in 2009, when he ran for a touchdown and threw another in a 34-7 Philly win

Ryan was injured that night. But he watched. He saw. He knew what it meant.

On Sunday night, with the Falcons losing by 10 points, Ryan showed his greatest strength. He didn’t change.

“In the huddle, he just said ‘Let’s go down and score. We’ve got this,’” wide receiver Harry Douglas recalled.

And the Falcons did. Twice.

Through nearly three quarters, Ryan completed only 8 of 17 passes for 102 yards. But he came out firing in a no-huddle offense. On first down, he completed a 17-yarder to Roddy White (”You want to get that first big play to get you moving,” he said.) Then came a 13-yarder to Gonzalez, a 14-yarder to Julio Jones, a 15-yarder to Douglas. He went 7 for 9 on the drive, the last being a one-yard touchdown flip to fullback Ovie Mughelli to close to 31-28.

It was like Ryan suddenly plugged the team into a light socket. He even called his own plays in the no-huddle.

“He was going up to the line, calling the plays that he likes to call, and he was getting the ball in good positions for us,” White said.

The winning touchdown drive was mostly about Turner, who broke off a 61-yard run on first-and-17 from the Falcons’ 13. But Ryan hit Douglas and Gonzalez on consecutive passes, the latter coming on third down to set up Turner’s go-ahead touchdown.

“I thought  our quarterback really showed his toughness,” coach Mike Smith said. “He took a number of shots and he kept going. When you’ve got guys like that, you’ve got a chance to be successful. He’s a tough Irishman.”

In the end, it was Ryan who brought his team back, rebounding from a poor opener in Chicago. It was Ryan who threw a career-high four touchdown passes and won the game, while Vick was sitting in the locker room with a concussion, a sore neck and three turnovers (two led to Falcons’ touchdowns).

Ryan downplayed the significance of this night.

“We have a big game against Tampa Bay next week,” he said, as if reading from a cue card.

Something tells me it means more than he will ever admit. It certainly did for others.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

766 comments Add your comment

The Falcon Jedi

September 19th, 2011
2:38 am

Falcons win

September 19th, 2011
2:40 am

we still a lot of work on our O-Line, but matty really showed that he is ready to lead this team deep into the playoffs…

TrishaDishaWarEagle

September 19th, 2011
2:45 am

21-2 It’s been Matt Ryans Dome for 3 years..

those who disagree are simply to be ignored..

Reid Adair

September 19th, 2011
2:46 am

“Even if Vick’s first start against the Falcons — and against Ryan — stirred fans and maybe some members of the organization into a far greater frenzy …”

For what it’s worth, I think that “frenzy” was created by the media’s obsession with the story. Fortunately, Matt Ryan ignored the hype and sensationalism.

Biscuit Bennett

September 19th, 2011
2:48 am

You know, we (the fans) can say a lot of things about Ryan’s talent, or “upside” as they call it, but he is one tough SOB. Taken almost as much punishment as Aaron Murray.

Jeff Schultz

September 19th, 2011
2:59 am

Falcons Jedi — I don’t usually get into the whole “First” thing.
But being the first at 2:38 a.m. probably is worth a beer or a bag of chips.
Remind me one day.

clay

September 19th, 2011
3:07 am

If we could play every game in the dome we would be 16-0. We dominate. This is Matty Ice’s house.

ThePro,

September 19th, 2011
3:14 am

Sam Baker….DAMN!!!!! he’s gonna get Matt Ryan killed…get ur head outta your arse and play some football…you’re better than that

Dr. Warren

September 19th, 2011
3:32 am

I hope Mularkey runs Rodgers more often. Limiting him to a few carries wastes his talent.

ScottBravesFan

September 19th, 2011
3:34 am

Sam Baker is horrible. That should be the main story of this game. He’s a huge bust and is going to get Matt Ryan hurt.

Donta Robinson is pretty much a bust too. Glad Matt Ryan is tough as nails because he has taken some HUGE shots these last two weeks. I’m just glad the Falcons got a win.

MaxxFalcon

September 19th, 2011
3:38 am

Alligator Arms Baker almost got Matty Ice killed. But man, he is a tough bastard. Huge W for the birds

Great Falconi

September 19th, 2011
3:41 am

Trent Dilfer’s been pounding his point about Matt Ryan into the ground. I hope he keeps doing it. The point is that Ryan is a cerebral QB who needs to be allowed to call his game as much as possible. When the Falcons got in the no-huddle tonight, Ryan was in his element. He was the man setting things up. He was the man making the adjustments on the fly. That no-huddle proved to be the best way for the team to attack that violent Eagle pass rush. It worked to perfection tonight when the team needed it the most. The only way this team will progress is if the offense is opened up. Ryan can do it, but Dimitroff and Mike Smith need to make sure that Mularkey understands what has to happen.

Kno of CunninLynguists

September 19th, 2011
4:05 am

Good piece, Jeff. I used to be on the fence about your writing but you’ve seemed to loosen up since embracing social media and I like it.

NagoyaFalcon

September 19th, 2011
4:41 am

I thought we were gonna lose that game. Still too many mistakes, but this game was definitely needed. Catharsis.

randawg6

September 19th, 2011
4:50 am

What a gutty win! Baker needs to step up or go. Robinson’s hit didn’t look like a cheap shot to me. Props to the team. Showed a lot of heart. Where’s choke? GO FALCONS

The Grinch

September 19th, 2011
4:52 am

Could it possibly be any more obvious that even our quarterback is a better OC than Mularkey? If we’re not gonna hire someone creative enough to utilize our talent, then PLEASE continue to let Ryan run the no-huddle. And FREE QUEEZY!

If we can get a real left tackle and another solid corner next year (and perhaps a punter), we’ll be in good shape.

matt

September 19th, 2011
5:20 am

Matt Ryan throws 4 tds (2 picks) against probably the best secondary in the nation. That’s encouraging.

The Falcon Jedi

September 19th, 2011
5:20 am

Sam Baker needs to be moved to RG. He is not a LT.

Keith in Macon

September 19th, 2011
5:26 am

I also saw what Trent Dilfer said about Matt Ryan on ESPN after the game. He sorta threw Mike Mularkey under the bus by basically saying the Falcons would be better off letting Matt Ryan run the no-huddle and call his own plays at the line, saying it allowed Ryan to dictate to the defense. He didn’t come right out and say it or mention by name but it seemed like he was questioning Mularkey’s play-calling ablility to best control the game.

NFL O Line

September 19th, 2011
5:37 am

When will McClure be back and dang we miss Harvey Dahl. Last few years our O-Line had attitude, now they are probably our weakest link.

You won because

September 19th, 2011
5:53 am

Vick got hurt, nothing more, and you know it.

Falcon in DC

September 19th, 2011
6:12 am

Wouldn’t be surprised if Sam Baker is having Trent Cole nightmares. Rarely do you see an NFL Left Tackle get beat like that ALL night long. The o-line must improve, if this is going to be a successful season!

david

September 19th, 2011
6:33 am

@You won because When did Vick start playing defense?

Anyone wonder why Mike Smith did not at least try to run the ball in the last two minutes of the game? If you are worried that all your running backs may fumble the ball, something is wrong.

And the Eagles lost because...

September 19th, 2011
6:40 am

Vick turned it over…. And ask yourself, how did Vick get hurt?

Real American

September 19th, 2011
6:41 am

When Vick left the game the Eagles were up by 10…..that’s how the Falcons won, cuz Vick was out.

Tennis Rodman

September 19th, 2011
6:43 am

What? Overall Vick was the better Quarter Back last night. He just got hurt.

RomeDawg

September 19th, 2011
6:43 am

In all my years of watching football, I don’t think I have ever seen a bigger arse whooping than the one Trent Cole put on Sam Baker!

Is Baker that bad or is Cole that good?

RomeDawg

September 19th, 2011
6:46 am

Eagles fans will say if Vick stayed in we would of won. THAT is the liability of having Vick as the QB! When he was a Falcon I assumed he would get hurt every game. His style then was so reckless.

If IF’s and BUTS were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas!

He got hurt and the Falcons won.

DC Dirty Bird

September 19th, 2011
6:48 am

Not willing to say the Falcons won “only because Vick was out”. How many drives did Kafka have? 2? To say the Falcons won because Vick was out is to say that there’s a guarantee that the Eagles score TD’s on both those drives because Ryan was unstoppable in the no huddle.

Falcons4Eva

September 19th, 2011
6:50 am

SAM BAKER SUCKS!

GPBurdell

September 19th, 2011
6:54 am

if Vick hadn’t turned the ball over 3 times you might have won. if he stayed in the game, we probably would have grab a couple more loose balls. too bad, so sad.

Ross

September 19th, 2011
7:03 am

RomeDawg – that’s actually not what Eaglets are saying. They are worried that the team has sold its soul for the gigantic flashing question mark that is Vick – we he electrify, or electrocute his team? He has the same issues he had B.C. (before canines) – he improvises, fumbles, and can’t read a blitz. In other words, he’s just not very smart. He’s got a lot of heart but does not learn from mistakes. The Eaglets realize they got their ovipositors kicked, physically beat down, and that worries them as well.

Some say this was a sloppy game, mistake filled, a lucky win. Wrong. I’ve been watching football a long time. This was a superb win by an intensely physical team that would not quit. They need to bring all that energy under control. And they desperately need McClure back to captain the offensive line.

I was very happy with this win.

-drl

tom

September 19th, 2011
7:06 am

I see no comments about how terrible our pass defense was. Great win. Fire the defensive coordinator. Grimes missing in action on two touchdowns. Another Eagle runs across the end zone untouched and not covered by anyone. ?????????????????????????????????????????????????

George Orwell

September 19th, 2011
7:06 am

As a Falcon’s fan I am glade we won the game. However, we did a poor job of protecting our great QB. That has to change!!!

Bill

September 19th, 2011
7:07 am

Donta Robinson deserves to be suspended – by the league for a cheap and dangerous hit – by the Falcons for failing to wrap up (or even use his arms) on the tackle.

Bill

September 19th, 2011
7:08 am

I have to agree with dirty bird. The Eagles running game was still there, and there passing attack seemed better after Vick went out.

WTF

September 19th, 2011
7:08 am

Best of all possible outcomes. Falcons win and Vick is hurting…and looked fairly bad in the process.
Vick’s ‘hurt’ wont be life-threatening or very long-lasting – at least not as much as those poor animals he tortured and killed, tho. And that’s not to mention lying thru his teeth to his boss and the whole city of Atlanta. Don’t care if he does go on to be Hall of Famer (he wont), he ain’t out of this doghouse.
Sorry to be so ‘inhumane’, but you know what?
KARMA! Not instant, but it’s real.

reebok

September 19th, 2011
7:11 am

big win for the falcons, still a lot wrong with this team, but one week at a time, right?

Bill

September 19th, 2011
7:15 am

We might want to restrain the celebration a little bit. If the Falcons make it to the playoffs, they are likely to find the Eagles there as well.

willie

September 19th, 2011
7:17 am

It doesn’t matter how or why you win….just win. We have played 2 of the top defenses in the league so far. We will look much better moving forward.

Rich T

September 19th, 2011
7:18 am

I was one of the few Mike Vick supporters prior to the dogfighting ring was exposed. I was also one of the few people on here saying we should draft Matt Ryan. Although my sudden disdain for Vick upon learning of the dogfighting has subsided and he has done his time, I pull for Vick to make the best of his comeback as a person and a player, but I will never pull for him against the Falcons.

With that said, can we now turn the play calling over to Ryan? I don’t have any stats readily available, but from all observations it sure seems they click a lot better when they run the no-huddle and also when he audibles at the line. Maybe it’s time for the staff to put more trust in his hands and see how powerful this offense can be.

Same old...

September 19th, 2011
7:20 am

Eagles kicked our ass – Plain and clear. We miraculously hung around. If Vick doesn’t get knocked out of the game by a fluke play, he puts us away. We’re making this look like some courageous come back. Uh-uh, we got lucky. Down the road when we play some real teams again, we’ll be exposed just like last year in the playoffs. Scoff is you like. Just wait. You’ll see.

Strange Murphy

September 19th, 2011
7:23 am

Chris Collinsworth is a douchebag! That just needed to be said.

Buckeye

September 19th, 2011
7:24 am

You go Matty Ice!

SG

September 19th, 2011
7:25 am

Ryan owned the Eagles and the 4th Q. Not saying always w/ the no-huddle, but agree w/ Dilfer completely – let him run the O. It’d be good to compare stats on Ryan’s play calling w/ the appropriately named Mularkey.

Big M

September 19th, 2011
7:36 am

SAM BAKER IS HORRIBLE! OFFESIVE LINE IS IN TROUBLE BUT SAM BAKER DAMN MAN!!!!!! YOU NEED AN ICY HOT SWEATSUIT BRUH BECAUSE LAST NIGHT WAS AN EXTREMELY BAD NIGHT FOR YOU ON NATIONAL TV.

REAL TALK

September 19th, 2011
7:40 am

What game yall was watching last nite Matt Ryan had a bad game the running game was bad. Mike Vick was the better quarterback last nite. The Eagles beat them selfs. REAL TALK.

FalconFan

September 19th, 2011
7:45 am

The thing is, Matt Ryan got murdered last night, no protection from Sam Baker at all and what did he do, lead the Falcons on not 1 but 2 touchdowns in the 4th quarter. The Falcons dominated the clock in the 4th quarter and proved once and for all a fragile QB like Vick, he willingness to STILL after all these years hold that ball in one outstretched hand and run (one fumble), and Matt Ryan getting back up off the floor time and time and time again and lead a team back to victory. Anyone and I mean ANYONE who says this isn’t RYAN’s house now is living in a fairy tale. He is now 21-2 at home and 32-14 overall as a starter with going on his 4th winning season in a row! When Ryan started calliing his own plays at the line and running the hurry up, he OWNED the game in the 4th quarter. Vick or no Vick in the 4th quarter, doesn’t matter. Vick can’t play defense. Great show and for all of those who are counting, Ryan 1- Vick 0.

Judge Smails

September 19th, 2011
7:49 am

“them selfs”

awesome

dean

September 19th, 2011
7:50 am

REAL Talk: Scoreboard