Flowery Branch — Almost nothing went wrong for the 2008 Falcons, and they went 11-5. Almost everything went wrong for the 2009 Falcons, and they finished 9-7. This tells us something. This tells us the team that might have been seen as a flash in the pan has, if you’ll excuse the Teflon-esque imagery, real sticking power.
“We feel like we’re a lot closer to 12 or 13 wins than we are to eight,” Matt Ryan said Saturday. “Last year was frustrating because we didn’t make the playoffs, but you always want to be in the mix. You always want to be playing for something, and really until the last three weeks we were.”
Ryan spoke after the morning session of Day 2 of minicamp. He seemed relaxed, which wasn’t all that remarkable — there’s not much tension in minicamp — but it represented a slight departure from last season. The NFL’s next Golden Arm wasn’t quite as golden in Year 2, and there were moments when he grew more defensive than we’d become accustomed to seeing from the affable Matty Ice.
His interceptions were up. His completion percentage was down. His quarterback rating was down. He didn’t have a bad year by any means; he just didn’t muster immediate improvement on his otherworldly rookie season.
Part of it was inevitable. The 2009 schedule was a fright: Of the Falcons’ seven losses, five came against playoff qualifiers; the other two were against teams that finished 8-8. As underwhelming as the season might have seemed, only three losses came by more than 10 points, and the worst beating — the 34-7 loss to Philadelphia — came on a day Ryan didn’t play. And yet two weeks later the Falcons, in Ryan’s gimpy return, beat the Jets, who would play for the AFC title, in the Meadowlands.
“Those losses were tough,” Ryan said. “We won a lot of tight games, too, but it was frustrating to lose three or four games in a difficult way. And within those games, it comes down to small things.”
Things like interceptions. Ryan threw 10 in a five-game span — he had thrown 11 in 16 games the season before — and his team lost three of those games. He would be intercepted only twice thereafter, both of those in the season finale at Tampa Bay. And that was more like it.
Even now, Ryan isn’t willing to say he was disappointed by what he did in 2009. “I thought I made strides,” he said. “I had to deal with some things. The biggest thing in my mind, what’s even more important, is that I need to be more consistent. I have to pay greater attention to even the smallest of details.”
Given that Ryan was never one to cut corners, isn’t it hard to focus even more precisely? “Ironically, no,” he said, and then he laughed. “I’m used to grinding. I always feel I can be more efficient. I’ve tried to get better at my offseason training. I’m trying to understand when I need to push myself and when I need to rest. I’m always trying to keep it fresh.”
A visitor noted that Ryan appears not to have been distracted by the extraneous issue of getting a haircut. The aerodynamic look of 2009 has been replaced, at least for the moment, by a shaggier — not to say shaggy — look. “I know,” Ryan said, smiling. “My mom’s been all over me about it.”
Speaking of whom: His mother is home in Philadelphia, and Matt Ryan will be otherwise occupied this Mother’s Day. The Falcons have gotten into the habit of scheduling minicamp for Mother’s Day weekend. But Ryan is a quarterback, and he can see the whole field. “I’ve already sent flowers,” he said.
Looking further ahead, he’s asked what he foresees for the 2010 Falcons. Twelve wins? “No predictions from me,” Ryan said, laughing again. “But 12 or more wins sounds good.”
Note the wording — 12 or more. If last season was as bad as it’s going to get for these Falcons, what’s ahead could be really, really good.