FLOWERY BRANCH – If Matt Ryan speaks the truth, the television is off this week. If the radio is on, it’s tuned to therapeutic jazz, perhaps against the backdrop of rhythmic wind chimes and burning incense. Computer use: limited to email, golf tips and perhaps new meatloaf recipes.
This seems so much better than subjecting himself to a jackhammer against his cranium by media cretins (present company excluded, of course) who insist on bringing up the interception on his first career playoff pass at Arizona, or the fumble and ensuing touchdown return by Antrel Rolle that turned around that game, or the first interception last year against Green Bay that led to a 14-point swing, or the head-slapping, pick six by Tramon Williams just before halftime, which pretty much buried his team, or …
Hmmmmmm. Soft breeze. Golden sunset. Serenity. Opening up the chakras now. I’m sorry, did you say something?
Ryan is at peace. He should be. I mean, jeez, the guy has played two playoff games — albeit, two bad playoff games — and it’s as if he already has, “Can’t win the big one. Spontaneously combusts,” stamped on his forehead.
The Falcons’ quarterback now acknowledges he has let “outside stuff, the extracurricular things that go with the playoffs, the hype,” get to him in the past. So in the time between last Sunday’s regular-season-ending win over Tampa Bay and this Sunday’s playoff game against the New York Giants, he is trying to operate with blinders and earplugs.
“I think anybody who says they never see or hear any of that stuff to a certain degree is lying,” Ryan said. “But at this time of the year, it really takes a conscious effort of, ‘You know what? I’m not paying attention to that.’ Collectively as a football team, it’s one of the things we’ve learned.”
He cited last season’s three-turnover performance in a 48-21 loss to Green Bay. Ryan hardly was the only reason the Falcons, as a No. 1 seed and coming off a bye week, got shellacked at home. (Reason No. 1 was Aaron Rodgers: 31-for-36, 366 yards, three touchdowns.)
But Ryan made it too easy for the Packers. The bye week, which intersected with “Snowmageddon 2011,” created a lot of down time for the Falcons. That probably limited the Falcons’ needed tunnel vision. That’s not to suggest that’s why they lost, but it easily could have fed into the total collapse.
Ryan again: “You don’t think you’re affected by it. You feel you’re very well-prepared. But in hindsight, when you’re removed from the situation, you say, ‘OK, I think I can do this better, that better.’ That’s one of the things I can definitely do better.”
We’ve evolved (devolved?) into an instant-gratification society. So it’s not surprising that after so much regular-season success (43-19 as a starter) but two playoff losses, critics now wonder about Ryan’s ceiling.
A few reminders of just how premature that thinking is:
Eli Manning lost his first two playoff starts, then won a Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning lost his first two playoff starts and six out of nine, then won a Super Bowl in his ninth season.
John Elway lost his first two playoff starts, eight of 15 and had dropped three consecutive games before winning two Super Bowls … in the 15th and 16th seasons of his career.
But yes, Ryan has to be better. Three touchdowns and six turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles) in two playoff games won’t cut it.
“It’s still so early for him,” said Tony Gonzalez, who’s still looking for his first postseason win. “I would anticipate he’s going to be in the playoffs a lot in his career. But, yeah, eventually you have to start performing. You’ve got to play well in the playoffs. … One thing about Matt is he learns from his mistakes. He’ll play up to a level that hopefully he’s satisfied with. I have no doubt about it. He’s a strong-minded person.”
Ryan doesn’t need to project “Hall of Fame” credentials against the Giants. He just can’t kill drives and hopes with turnovers. The Giants generate a strong pass rush (48 sacks), but they give up a ton of yards (376.4, ranked 27th) and points (25, ranked 25th).
Ryan’s lesson from the two playoff games?
“It usually comes down to three or four plays,” he said. “Like the pick six against Green Bay. Be smart as a quarterback, make plays when they’re presented. Don’t try to go above and beyond.”
He knows where that leads to.
By Jeff Schultz