Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan’s Top 10 Performances – #3


Today, we continue our “Falcons 50” countdown with our mini-series written by staff writer Kevin Knight. Kevin is counting down Matt Ryan’s top 10 performances, and today moves onto No. 3.

You can find the full list of “Falcons 50” posts here.

The Atlanta Falcons have an amazing quarterback in Matt Ryan. After so many years of sub-par QB play and the debacle that was the 2007 season, the team struck gold in the young signal caller from Boston College. Since then, Atlanta has experienced years of consistent leadership and competent quarterbacking from Ryan.

Ryan is, without a doubt, the best QB in Atlanta Falcons history. His numbers speak for themselves, but his play goes beyond the numbers. He’s the unquestioned leader of this team and the face of the franchise. Ryan is a top-10 QB in the NFL today and, in my mind, is either elite or borderline elite already.

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His ability to stay cool and collected during the biggest moments of games, commonly the last drive of the fourth quarter, and engineer comeback after comeback has earned him the nickname “Matty Ice”.

Ryan has built an excellent rapport with star WR Julio Jones, and the two of them combine for one of the most potent passing offenses in the NFL.

As we count down the final fifty days until the beginning of the NFL season, let us fondly remember some of Matt Ryan’s greatest games with the Atlanta Falcons. Keep in mind that these are based on Matt Ryan’s performance, not the entire team’s performance.

#3 – San Francisco 49ers 28, Atlanta Falcons 24 – 2012 NFC Championship Game “Painful Memories”

This is a game that many Falcons fans would try to forget. It’s a painful memory – a reminder of what almost was. But despite the fact that the team (mainly the coaching staff and defense, also a no-call hold in the endzone) couldn’t pull out the victory, this game is without a doubt one of Matt Ryan’s best performances.

Matt Ryan put on a show, taking the Falcons out to a 17-0 lead on one of the NFL’s top defenses. His stats were insane, and in my mind, he proved that he could handle the big game. Let’s take a look at how it all unfolded. Get your Kleenex ready folks.

Atlanta started the scoring early in the first quarter, with Matt Ryan delivering a 46-yd bomb to Julio Jones to put the Falcons up 7-0. Matt Bryant would tack on a 35-yd field goal to make the score 10-0 at the end of the first.

December 23, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) hands the football off against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter in the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Falcons 34-24. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan continued to eviscerate the 49ers defense, connecting with Julio Jones once again on a 20-yd TD pass only six seconds into the second quarter.

The Falcons were out to a 17-0 lead, and fans were beginning to get their hopes up.

The defense, which had held up quite well in the first quarter, began to crack. San Francisco’s LaMichael James would score on a long 15-yd run halfway through the second.

Colin Kaepernick would then find Vernon Davis on a 4-yd TD pass to make the score 17-14 with 1:55 remaining in the half.

But Ryan was unfazed. He demonstrated his prowess at running the two-minute offense by methodically leading the team down the field.

He would find Tony Gonzalez on a 10-yd TD pass to put the Falcons up 24-14 going into the half.

The game was getting tense, but it appeared Atlanta had figured out the 49ers defense. Unfortunately, somebody decided that what was working in the first half (a lot of intermediate passing and feeding Julio Jones) needed to be changed.

San Francisco adjusted their offense and scored on their opening drive of the third quarter. Frank Gore took a 5-yd run into the endzone to make the game 24-21 with 10:47 left in the third.

The teams would trade ineptitude for the next several drives. Atlanta’s next drive would stall after Ryan tossed an interception to Chris Culliver. Luckily, San Francisco would not get far, and would miss the ensuing 38-yd field goal.

The score would remaing 24-21 going into the fourth quarter.

Atlanta’s defense would hold on the next drive, with Dunta Robinson forcing a fumble on Michael Crabtree that was recovered by Stephen Nicholas. However, the Falcons would go 3-and-out, giving the ball right back to the 49ers.

Matt Ryan masterfully rallied the offense, and marched down the field on a beautiful, time-munching drive.

This time, the defense wouldn’t be so lucky. San Francisco started gouging the Falcons’ defense on the ground, setting up Frank Gore for a 9-yd TD run to put the 49ers up 28-24 with 8:23 remaining.

This next drive would be fateful, and perhaps the most anger-inducing of any in Falcons history. Ryan masterfully rallied the offense, and marched down the field on a beautiful, time-munching drive. He found a wide-open Harry Douglas, but Douglas was tripped up catching what would have been a sure TD and was limited to only 22 yards.

Still, the Falcons were in position at the San Francisco 28. Off a great Jacquizz Rodgers run, the Falcons would have a fresh set of downs at the 49ers 19. Two short runs later and they faced a 3rd-and-4 at the 10.

The third down pass was defended well by Ahmad Brooks. The fourth down pass, however… well, I’ll let you decide what happened.

To me, it looks like possible pass interference. If not that, it is blatant defensive holding. The ball is in the air while Bowman has his hands around White. But that is not what this article is about.

That was the final play of the drive. San Francisco took over with only 1:09 remaining and burned all but :13 off the clock before the Falcons got the ball back.

Ryan completed a last ditch effort to Julio Jones, a lovely 24-yd pass to the San Francisco 35, but Julio couldn’t get out of bounds and the game ended right there. Sadness and plentiful drinking ensued.

Let’s not talk about the conclusion of this game.

The end doesn’t matter for the purposes of this article. What matters is that Ryan demonstrated his elite status – he proved that he can put his team in a position to win on the big stage. What the team (or the referees) do from there is ultimately up to them, but Ryan was not the problem.

His stat line was incredible: 30-42 (70.1 percent) for 396(!) yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT. That’s against what many considered the best defense in football in 2012. Ryan eviscerated them, surgically picking them apart for the majority of the game.

This game is important to me. It’s not a happy memory, but it does bring with it a certain level of confidence. If Ryan were to get back to the playoffs with a better defense and coaching staff, I have total confidence in him to get us to the big game.

That’s why this game is #3. A near-perfect performance from Ryan, and the proof that he can play well enough to win in the playoffs.

Do you have any happy memories of the game? If you only have cripplingly sad ones, that’s fine too. Share in the comments below.

Keep an eye out tomorrow for #2, a much happier affair that saw Ryan set career records and humiliate the Saints.

Next: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman sidelined with injuries

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