Today, we continue our “Falcons 50” countdown with our mini-series written by staff writer Kevin Knight. It’s time to reveal Matt Ryan’s best performance for the Atlanta Falcons.
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.
#1 – Seattle Seahawks 28, Atlanta Falcons 30 – 2012 NFC Divisional Playoff Game “Ryan’s Triumph”
This was it, thus far the defining moment of Matt Ryan’s career. Prior to this game, Ryan was 0-3 in the playoffs. Pundits questioned his ability to win the big game and if he had what it took to take the next step in the NFL.
This was Ryan’s answer to those critics. He masterfully led the team out to a huge lead, only to see the defense completely fall apart and the play-calling on offense turn to conservative rubbish. Unfazed, he fought back and delivered one of the most memorable game-winning drives in Falcons history.
It was a very tough game, wrought with struggles for Ryan (2 INTs) and against one of the best defenses in the NFL. In fact, the Falcons and the Patriots are the only two teams to defeat the “Legion of Boom” in the playoffs (though, the Seahawks really beat themselves against the Pats).
Nov 10, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws the ball away under pressure from Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril (56) in the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks won 33-10. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s take a stroll down happy Falcons’ memory lane and remember one of the most exciting games in Falcons’ history.
The Falcons took the lead early after Ryan led the Falcons down the field on the opening drive, setting up Matt Bryant for a 39-yd field goal to make the score 3-0.
Seattle would go 3-and-out on their next drive, giving the Falcons the ball with great field position. Unfortunately, the Legion of Boom would halt the next drive when Ryan’s pass to Tony Gonzalez was intercepted by Bobby Wagner.
The turnovers would continue, but this time Atlanta would be the cause, with Sean Weatherspoon forcing a fumble on Marshawn Lynch that the Falcons would recover.
Ryan then took over once more, leading Atlanta down the field. Atlanta would score the first TD of the game on a 1-yd tip-toe catch to Gonzalez. The Falcons would extend their lead to 10-0.
Atlanta continued to find ways to move the ball against the Seahawks, while the defense would continue to find ways to stop Russell Wilson and Lynch.
Another long drive by Ryan would end with a 37-yd field goal by Matt Bryant to make the score 13-0 with 9:13 remaining in the half.
The Falcons defense forced a turnover on downs when Seattle failed to convert on a 4th-and-1 at the Atlanta 11. Ryan would then strike quickly, finding a streaking Roddy White on a 47-yd TD bomb (and embarrassing Richard Sherman in the process) to make the score an impressive 20-0.
Seattle marched down the field yet again, seeming to be wearing down the Falcons defense. They would make it all the way to the Atlanta 11 before Wilson was sacked on the final play, ending the half with no points for Seattle.
The good times wouldn’t last for Atlanta, however. As seemed customary, the Falcons defense wouldn’t make adjustments to counter the Seattle gameplan, and Wilson proceeded to carve up the secondary. He found Golden Tate on a 29-yd TD pass to put Seattle on the board, 20-7, midway through the third quarter.
Still, the Falcons were up by 13 points, and they hadn’t seemed to have any trouble moving the ball against Seattle. Right?
So far, that remained the case. Ryan led the Falcons on a 14-play, 80-yd drive that ate up a whopping 7:36 off the clock. Atlanta scored on a 5-yd pass to Jason Snelling to make the game 27-7 with only 2:11 remaining in the third.
Seattle’s next drive was just as devastating as the last one, with tight end Zach Miller consistently finding separation in the middle of the Atlanta defense. Wilson ended the drive with a 1-yd scramble for a TD to make it 27-14 with 13:01 left in the game.
Atlanta needed another long, clock-churning drive to put this game away. It started out great, with two good runs by Michael Turner. However, a deep pass intended for White was intercepted by Earl Thomas, and the Seahawks got the ball again with only 1:58 burned off the clock.
By this time, it was apparent that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan had run out of tricks. The Seahawks moved down the field effortlessly, capping off a 4-play, 62-yd drive with a 3-yd TD pass to Miller to make it a one score game at 27-21 with 9:13 remaining.
The long, clock-destroying drive the Falcons needed would never materialize. They went 3-and-out on the next drive, giving the ball right back to the Seahawks.
There was, however, one man who did not feel defeated. A man who knew the game was not yet over. That man was Matty Ice.
Atlanta’s defense would muster one last defensive stop, forcing a punt by the Seahawks with 5:32 remaining. The team desperately needed some offensive life to give the defense time to rest and recover. But we all knew that wouldn’t happen, because Falcons.
After a nice, 12-yd run by Michael Turner, the Falcons’ offense would fizzle once again, punting the ball back to Seattle with 3:00 remaining.
The Seahawks would again march down the field, this time purposefully draining the clock. A 7-play, 61-yd drive would be capped off by a 2-yd Marshawn Lynch TD run to put Seattle on top 28-27 with only :31 remaining in the game.
Falcons fans were stunned.
We felt defeated, building a 20-0 lead only to lose with less than a minute in the game was humiliating. There was, however, one man who did not feel defeated. A man who knew the game was not yet over. That man was Matty Ice.
Ryan marched onto the field with his offense in tow like a pack of lions. His first pass went to Harry Douglas for 22 yards to the 50-yard line. His second pass went to Tony Gonzalez for 19 yards to the Seattle 31-yard line. Mike Smith used the Falcons final timeout to set up a 49-yd field goal attempt for the lead.
Matt Bryant, the other Matty Ice, would come on the field and deliver a perfect 49-yard attempt to put the Falcons on top, 30-28, with only 0:08 remaining in the game.
Wilson would get a chance for a hail mary, but it was not to be. Julio Jones would show off his “I can jump higher than anyone else” skills and intercept the ball in the endzone, sealing the game for Atlanta. Celebrations ensued.
Nov 10, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks defeated the Falcons 33-10. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
This game was special for so many reasons. It was the first time Atlanta had won a playoff game since the 2004 season.
It was Matt Ryan’s first playoff victory. It was the first and only playoff victory for future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who broke down in tears at the end of the game.
Ryan had a so-so stat line in this game, doing most of his work in the short-to-intermediate passing game and leaning on Michael Turner and the rushing offense. He went 24-35 (68.6%) for 250 yds, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs. It was his best performance however, because he overcame everything thrown at him and found a way to win.
That is what elite QBs do, and boy did he do it. The defense surrendered nearly 500 yards to a unit that was, truly, not one of the stronger offenses in the league. Ryan even had his own struggles, throwing two interceptions, one in a very bad situation.
But Ryan persevered, unafraid. With :31 seconds on the clock and his team’s playoff future on the line, he led them down the field and won. That is why this is his best performance: he put it all together – the toughness, the last-second magic, and the exceptional passing – to come out on top on one of the biggest stages in football.
What are some of your fondest memories of the game? Did you break down in tears or rampant alcohol consumption before the conclusion of the game, only to be even more shocked when the Falcons pulled off the win? Share in the comments below.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Stay tuned for more “Falcons 50” coverage as we get closer and closer to the regular season, and of course, keep checking Blogging Dirty for all the latest training camp and preseason updates.
Tomorrow, Ryan Robertson kicks off a new mini-series on our “Falcons 50” countdown.