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. 2.
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.
#2 – New Orleans Saints 34, Atlanta Falcons 37 OT – 2014 “A Historic Saints Beatdown”
In what was otherwise a disappointing season, this game stood out. In some ways, it summed up what the 2014 Falcons had in spades (excellent passing offense, opportunistic defense) and what they lacked (a defense that could stop people, competent rushing, offensive line depth).
Matt Ryan, in particular, had the best day of his career. He picked apart the Saints defense like it was tissue paper, with multiple receivers having big days. Five receivers had over 50 yards (Julio Jones, Devin Hester, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Antone Smith).
In short, he made the New Orleans defense look as bad as the Falcons’ (which, in honestly, it nearly was).
Atlanta put up an insane 568 total yards of offense (to New Orleans 472), including 123 yards of rushing. Every RB except Antone Smith averaged over four YPC. In short, the offense had an amazing day.
If only that could have continued throughout the season. Regardless, let’s enjoy remembering one of the highlights of Ryan’s career.
Sep 7, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) runs with the ball against the New Orleans Saints during the first half at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Saints 37-34 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
The game started out all Saints, and Falcons fans were thinking “oh god, not again.” Brees moved New Orleans down the field with ease, but couldn’t finish in the endzone.
Shayne Graham connected on two FGs in the first quarter, one from 31 and another from 50, to make the score 6-0 Saints.
Atlanta looked to be driving, with Ryan finally figuring out the Saints defense. They had a 1st and 10 at the New Orleans 25 when Ryan found an open Julio Jones who made it all the way to the 5-yard line before fumbling.
The ball rolled into the endzone, making it a touchback for the Saints and extinguishing a promising drive.
New Orleans would continue to pile up the score, cutting the Falcons’ defense to pieces with one long play after another. Khiry Robinson would find the endzone on a 2-yd TD run to make the score 13-0 Saints.
But Ryan wasn’t fazed just yet. He orchestrated a 14-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off with a 2-yd TD pass to Roddy White. The Falcons were on the board, and it was now a one-score game at 13-7.
Brees would respond in kind, eviscerating the Falcons’ defense once again. The Saints would find the endzone on a 2-yd pass to Brandin Cooks to make the score 20-7 with only :20 remaining in the first half.
The master of the two-minute offense that he is, Ryan marched on and led the Falcons down the field. He completed two long passes, the first a 19-yd catch and run by Devin Hester and the second a 39-yd bomb to White to put Atlanta in range at the New Orleans 22.
Matt Bryant would connect on a 40-yd field goal to make the score 20-10 Saints.
Atlanta would come out after halftime looking fired up and ready to play. Ryan led the team down the field yet again, spreading the ball around and lighting up the Saints’ secondary.
The Falcons would find the endzone on a 1-yd pass from Ryan to Levine Toilolo that was reminiscent of Tony Gonzalez. The score now sat a 20-17 with 9:22 remaining in the third.
The teams traded punts before New Orleans got another drive going off of a 57-yd deep pass from Brees to Marques Colston. On 3rd and 7 at the Atlanta 14, Brees’ pass into the endzone was intercepted by Robert McClain, and the Falcons would take over.
It was then that Ryan would turn to the “Human Cheat Code”, Antone Smith. Under pressure, Ryan would toss a short pass to Smith, who would break four tackles and outrun another Saints’ defender on a 54-yd catch-and-run TD. The Falcons pulled ahead for the first time in the game, 24-20, and the end of the third quarter.
Anyone who knows Matt Ryan, however, understands that 1:20 is more than enough time for him to cook a steak, do his taxes, and orchestrate a game-winning (or, in this case, tying) drive.
New Orleans would continue the offensive fireworks (and the display of two terrible defenses) with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 3-yd Mark Ingram TD run to make the score 27-24.
The teams would trade punts once again before Ryan rallied the offense and Jacquizz Rodgers broke off an impressive 17-yd TD run to put the Falcons in the lead once more, 31-27, with 2:50 remaining in the game.
The Saints, not looking to be outdone, again easily marched down the field. They continued beating the Falcons’ defense on the ground and through the air, with Mark Ingram scoring a 3-yd TD run to make the score 34-31 Saints with only 1:20 remaining.
Anyone who knows Ryan, however, understands that 1:20 is more than enough time for him to cook a steak, do his taxes, and orchestrate a game-winning (or, in this case, tying) drive.
Ryan did just that, spreading the ball around like he had all game and carving up the Saints secondary with intermediate passes. The Falcons got down to the Saints 34 and attempted one last deep throw to Julio, which fell incomplete.
Bryant, the other Matty Ice, then calmly trotted onto the field, kicked a 51-yarder, and tied the game at 34-34 to send it into overtime.
New Orleans would get the ball first, sending every Falcons fans’ heart racing. But the defense would do what it does best: create turnovers. After a long pass to Marques Colston, William Moore would knock the ball loose and it would be recovered by the Falcons at the New Orleans 38.
Atlanta would run the ball a few times to set up the field goal, before the team would call upon the talents of Bryant once again. He made the 52-yard attempt look easy, and the Falcons would win the game 37-34.
This was an historic game for the Falcons. Ryan set the franchise record for passing yards with 448, which was also a career high for him. Coincidentally, he also broke the franchise record for career TD passes in this game, surpassing the other great Falcons’ QB Steve Bartkowski’s previous mark of 154.
Ryan, obviously, had a fantastic day. He ended the contest throwing 31-43 (72.1 percent) for 448 yards, 3 TD, and no INTs. His yards-per-pass was a whopping 10.42, and he also added 3 scrambles for 15 yards. All in all, it was a masterful performance.
Although this game exposed the Falcons’ great weaknesses (no offensive line depth, poor defensive scheme, no pass rush), it also demonstrated their strengths: a great QB, good receivers and passing, and a defense with a knack for creating turnovers.
The team seems to have made efforts to address their weaknesses this offseason, while their strengths may actually get even stronger.
What are some of your memories of this game? Can you remember a more thrilling season opener in the Matt Ryan era? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the #1 game on the list, which should be a pretty obvious choice in my mind. It was a game where Ryan demonstrated his ability to win no matter the circumstances, and it forever got the proverbial monkey off his back.