Cover 9@9: A salute to Matt Ryan

Former coaches, teammates reflect on Ryan’s career in Atlanta

(Here’s our weekly blog of nine things you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons: the farewell-to-Matt Ryan edition.)

1. The No-Spin Zone: We have some leftovers from my exclusive interview with Matt Ryan. Let’s feast on them this morning.

On a personal note, I’m going to miss ol’ Matt. He always answered our questions.

Ryan: “I’m going to miss seeing you every Wednesday, brother.”

Me: “Yeah, I’m going to miss you, too.”

Ryan: “I appreciate everything the last 14 years. ... You’re the best.”

Me: “Tell your dad hello .... and good luck in your future endeavors.”

After the pleasantries, we got in to the interview, and here are the quotes from Ryan that didn’t make the story:

On owner Arthur Blank: “He knows how I feel about him. The end is always a little tough. I’m excited to be where I’m at, and I know they are excited for the future.”

On the house he built in Atlanta and his social-action foundation: “Obviously, we’re going to keep our house in Atlanta. We’ve been there a long time. There’s always a presence that will be there. I am heavily involved with the ATL foundation that we put together. There is going to be no loss of commitment to that and what we do there. Even though I might be in a different location, the commitment and willingness to make a change in the community for Black youth is important to me. We remain steadfast with that. We’ll always have a presence there. It’s home.

“But for now, I’ve got to go. I’m excited about it and excited to be here in Indy. I think it’s a good football team. I’m really getting to know the staff. Fired up to try and help them win games and make a push to get in the playoffs and make a run. I’m going to do everything that I can to help them do that.”

On the past 14 years: “I talked to Terry (Robiskie), he’s a beauty. Yeah, obviously, when you’re going through a time like that you have the opportunity to reflect on the 14 years there, and you can’t believe it goes as fast as it does. I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m so thankful to Arthur Blank and the entire organization for the support that they provided me during that time and the chance that they took on me in 2008. You enjoy the highs, the lows, the work we put in. Everybody in that building, the support staff, coaches, there were a lot of them along the way. I got to meet a lot of different people. It was an incredible opportunity. Also, (it was) time to move on, and I’m excited about that as well.”

On the frustration of watching the team court Deshaun Watson: “Well, that’s it, No. 1, I understand the business of it. I’ve been around for a long time and have seen lots of different things shake out. So, I’ve never been naïve to that. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never had to go through it, but I’ve never been naïve to that.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith (right) and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey got a good look at their new investment, quarterback Matt Ryan, at his first Falcons minicamp.

Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

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Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

2. Coach Mike Smith on Matt Ryan: When we chatted, coach Smith wanted to be clear that he thought Ryan was the best and the greatest Falcon of all time.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” Smith said when talking to Solomon Wilcots and Mark Dominik on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “He threw a post route to Michael Jenkins for a touchdown, 62 yards against the Detroit Lions. I can remember telling Mike Mularkey when they lined up and we saw the coverage that there were in, I said, ‘This is going to be good a one, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Yep!’ It was a skinny post against Cover 4.”

Smith on scouting Ryan: “As you know, Thomas (Dimitroff) is very detailed in terms of the process that we went through. It started by watching tape. We watched every throw that Matt Ryan threw at Boston College. There were a lot of people that had some concerns about his arm strength and his completion percentage. But Matt wasn’t playing with the best group of wide receivers at Boston College. There were a lot of balls that were perfectly thrown that weren’t necessarily always caught. When you watch his entire career there at Boston College, you got an opportunity to really see how accurate of a passer he was. That’s the thing I remember about the process in terms of the video. Then, of course, the interviews and stuff, I can remember sitting there in a restaurant in Indianapolis, Matt and I, at the combine having a conversation. Really knew, early on, that if he was there on the board when we picked, we were going to take him.”

Smith on Ryan’s transition to the NFL as rookie: “He’s a great teammate. When you’re a great teammate, guys want to do good things with you. He ended up becoming a great leader early on. He started his very first game. He won the job outright in (the exhibition) season. He’s got those leadership skills to be a great teammate. When you’re a great teammate, you’ve got a step up on everybody else. He’s shown that throughout his career there in Atlanta.”

Smith on what the Colts are getting: “I haven’t watched a whole lot of tape. I’ve been a casual viewer of football for the last couple of years. I can’t speak to how he plays (now). But they are getting a leader. A great teammate. I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt has three or four more years of great football. He’s such a great guy that understands the game. There is nothing that somebody is going to throw at him that he can’t handle. He’s been blessed with the football IQ that great quarterbacks have. In my opinion, he’s going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback, five years after he’s finished. Indianapolis is getting a great, great person and a super quarterback.”

Smith on the rebuild after the historically messy 2007 season: “Well, it was a team effort. It started with the leadership. Thomas Dimitroff was the general manager. He did a great job of getting players. We just tried to build a team. The coaching staff, our first coaching staff, with Mike Mularkey as the offensive coordinator and Terry Robiskie as the wide receivers coach. Those guys were veterans and had a good feel for what players could and could not do. We wanted to start out being able to run the football. We brought in Michael Turner to get some running game going. We didn’t want it all to be on Matt Ryan. We found out real quickly that Matt could take a team and put it on his back and lead it to a lot of wins.

“One thing about Matt was his competitiveness. He’s one tough guy. He’s been hit a lot throughout his career, but he’s always gotten up. I think he only missed three games. He had a turf toe and missed two games with us in his second season. I think he missed one other time in his entire career there in Atlanta.”

Smith on his favorite Ryan game: “There are so many plays that Matt has been a part of. The thing that I thought Matt did a great job of happened very early in his career. We gave him the ability to get out of plays and change plays at the line of scrimmage. So many times he made the right call, and I think that’s the thing that people don’t realize about Matt Ryan is how cerebral he is as a quarterback.” (He didn’t have those powers under Kyle Shanahan, but that’s for another blog).

Smith on the economics of the NFL: “Unfortunately, this is the economics of the National Football League that you’re seeing. We’re seeing it every year. Guys don’t stay with one team forever. If you’re lucky enough to do that, there’s only a handful of guys. You’re going to move on to a different team and you’re not going to go out on your terms, whether if you are a player or a coach. That’s just the way the NFL is.”

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones watches the game from the comfort of the sidelines with wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie during the first quarter against the Ravens in their final preseason game in 2015 in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

3. Terry Robiskie on Matt Ryan: Robiskie was the wide receivers coach for Smith’s tenure from 2008 to 2015.

“I talked to Matt Ryan two weeks ago,” Robiskie said. “He and I chatted. I was there for Roddy White’s wedding. Matt and I had a chance to chat, and he didn’t know this was coming down.”

Robiskie had a message for Ryan.

“Walk with your head up and smile,” Robiskie said. “You came as a kid to the Atlanta Falcons. You came at a time of upheaval and disturbance. You along with your teammates, the Roddy Whites, the Michael Turners, the Sam Bakers … you and your teammates built that place to be what it is. Y’all won more games than anybody in the history of the Falcons. Y’all have back-to-back winning seasons. In a four-year span y’all won more games than anybody in the National Football League other than the New England Patriots.

“You can be proud that you and your friends built that. Matt Ryan, what you did for that city and that state, every day that you walk out your house I hope you can look up and see the top of the dome (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium). Because you and your friends built that. You and John Abraham. You and Roddy White. You and Julio Jones. You and Tony Gonzalez. You and your teammates built that.”

Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterback Matt Ryan watch a play.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

4. Mike Mularkey on Matt Ryan: Mularkey was in Atlanta with one of his former players, Tim Shaw, who has ALS.

“We try to get a trip in with him every year,” Mularkey said. “We’ve been to Havana together. We’ve been to Mount Rushmore. Now he’s just had his first NASCAR race in his lifetime this weekend. So I was up right down the street from you.”

Some reflections on Ryan: “I was to be the coordinator the first year he’s there, our first year there. He was going to a team that never had back-to-back winning seasons. And to put four of them back-to-back-to-back-to-back and then however many more after I left, but I’ll say this, and I told this to Matt. With him at quarterback I felt like we had a chance to win every time we took the field. Before the game and during the game, regardless of what the score was in the game, I never thought we couldn’t win the game with Matt Ryan. I mean that’s unique. Me with 33 years in the NFL I can’t say that about everybody. But I can say that about Matt Ryan. We always had a chance to win with Matt. What a good feeling. Because I’ve been other places and I didn’t even know how we were going to score a touchdown today.”

On when he felt Ryan was going to be just fine: “Early. We did the quarterback tour when we were in (scouting). (Quarterbacks coach Bill) Musgrave as part of it with Mr. (Arthur) Blank and Mike Smith. He clearly was the best as far as getting up on the board and strategically. He was clearly the best of all of them and just to spend the time that I did with him was phenomenal. But the best thing we did, which is kind of, I’m not trying to brag. It was my philosophy, we didn’t early on in his career, we didn’t put all the pressure on him to have to win the games. So we, you know, I’m always a balanced run-pass guy, and I think that helped his development. Not to be thrown to the wolves to have to win the game every week. And I think he appreciates that. And he recognized that … When Matt first got there, Mike Smith said we were going to rotate quarterbacks in training camp. I’m like, why do we want to do that? Matt Ryan is going to be our starting quarterback opening day. I’d like to get him in … don’t rotate him just put him in with the starters right now.”

On the moment: “My moment of that we have a potential franchise quarterback was when his first time in a huddle with the first team. I called a play. It was called Zero Act Two Go where both outside receivers, Mike Jenkins and Roddy White, ran go routes with a little play-action. I called it. He went in the huddle to call the play and looked right at Roddy White across the huddle. He said, ‘Roddy go get this (expletive).’ I had a chill go up my spine that this young rookie quarterback just led a veteran wide receiver. I was thinking that he was going to complete it. My confidence in him went out the roof, but I had chills run down (my spine). I’m like, ‘I never had that happen.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’d only called one play.’ ”

Cornerback Brent Grimes breaks up a pass to wide receiver Harry Douglas.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

5. Harry Douglas on Ryan: Former Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas, of Jonesboro, was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft from Louisville.

For me, it was probably different from a lot of people because me and Matt Ryan came in the same year in 2008,” Douglas said. “We shared a bond that probably not many other people were able to share with him. Because we had to do everything, rookie-wise, together. Then he was a quarterback, and I was a receiver. So, we spent a lot of time together, like doing a lot of different things. And I’ll just say, man, just from the moment that Matt came, though, and I’ll start here, like the organization when we got there wasn’t in a good place. Because of the stuff that went out with Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino. But Matt being able to get drafted there, save that organization. It put them in a position to compete. It’s different from validation because people are hesitant to put young quarterbacks into the fire. It’s probably more hesitant back then, too, but Matt Ryan, I remember Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, two guys who just came right in and that was unbelievable. From no huddle his rookie year to command the huddle. His first pass, I remember the play: Sixty-Two, common, sink. He hit (Michael) Jenkins on a skinny route for a touchdown on his very first pass. Then our rookie year, that game against Chicago with not too much time on the clock. Him anticipating the throw even before Jenkins broke out on his bench route, and the football just landing so perfectly.”

Douglas on Matty Ice: “I think about all the fourth-quarter and overtime comebacks that we had and how we were on the sideline and were down in game, but we never wavered because we knew were going to come back. Not we thought we were going to come back, we knew were going to come back in a lot of those games. It was just that mentality.”

Douglas on Ryan’s leadership: “Matt epitomizes what you want your franchise quarterback to be. He’s always going to work hard. He’s smart. He interacts with guys. And he’s going to put the team first, but then he’s going to hold himself accountable. Matt has had a ton of positives here in Atlanta. I’m just talking about on the football field right now because he’s had a ton of things that he’s done so gracious, so amazing off the field as well. But when look at him on the field having so much success and then you have your blemishes here and there with things that might not have went his way, but that’s life. That’s reality. Nothing is perfect. But I thought he handled himself in the correct manner. And always with grace.”

On handling the Watson rumors: “I’ll tell you two situations. You look at the situation and then you look at it with Baker Mayfield. You see the differences, right? Ryan is the ultimate pro. He’s the guy that understands that it’s a business, and in this game you can’t let your emotions get in the way of the business. But that’s something that Baker Mayfield doesn’t understand. Indy, they are getting a good one. But I do think it was good for the organization and good for Matt. The organization has to move forward. We call it doomsday. There’s always a doomsday for somebody. It even happened with Tom Brady in New England. I’m just happy for him that he gets an opportunity to compete because Indy, their roster top to bottom, looks good. They’ve got a couple holes they’ve got to fill. But if it’s Carson Wentz or Matt Ryan, I’m taking Matt Ryan 10 times out of 10 times.”

Douglas on Atlanta giving Ryan his respect. “You have a ton of people who love Matt and some who don’t, I don’t know why or for whatever reason. But we have to give him his respect because his respect is due. He’s been so great for this organization. It’s funny how quickly we forget what somebody meant to us. Yes, the organization is going in a different direction, but let’s not bash this man, who for 14 years gave you everything that he had on that football field.”

Matt Ryan acknowledges the crowd as he celebrates a touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins with teammates Brian Finneran and Roddy White.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

6. Brian Finneran on Matt Ryan: Former Falcons wide receiver Brian Finneran was coming off missing two seasons with ACL surgeries. A cadaver ligament didn’t hold, and he had to have a second surgery. The former undrafted star from Villanova was just trying to make the team.

“To get on the field in training camp, when I started ramping it up and getting on the field, to see his demeanor inside the huddle in training camp when everybody was padded and kind of live bullets were going,” Finneran said. “Just super impressive as a rookie quarterback to handle a huddle and grown men like he did. It was early on.”

On the team’s prospects: “I don’t know what I thought about that team, I think we were a bunch of try-hard guys. We had a really fun offensive line with guys in front of Matt. I think having Todd McClure there as a veteran center really helped Matt early on in his career. Then, obviously, Michael Turner played a huge role. He was able to grow and develop as opposed to putting too much on his shoulders right away. Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie did a great job utilizing the run game.”

On the moment he knew Ryan could play: “I knew we had something good, probably the first couple of huddles that I stepped into in training camp in 2008. He just kept impressing us. The first pass that he made, the system and timing. He was just so good with the details of the game plan.”

Finneran is a co-host on the popular “The Locker Room” show on The Fan. He has his pulse on the team’s fan base.

“They are mostly happy for Matt that he has a chance to do something late in his career with a good football team,” Finneran said. “A little angry with the way it was handled on his way out. Frustrated, I guess. Just a curious, curious move. … But I really had a hard time believing that Deshaun Watson was really going to come here and play football or wanted to. Why would you come here? It’s a rebuild for two years whether if it’s Matt Ryan or Deshaun Watson. So, I just never really understood it. I kept trying to figure it out. I couldn’t figure it out.

“But the fans have been a little frustrated and happy for Matt. I think the fact that we’ve been relatively bad the last few years and not winning games makes it an easier transition, knowing that at some point we had to start over. Now that point was (Monday).”

7. The past 10 third-round picks: The Falcons picked up a third-round pick (reportedly 82nd overall) from the Colts in the Ryan trade Monday.

Here’s a look at the players the Falcons have selected in the third round over the past 10 drafts:

2021 – Jalen Mayfield, OL, Michigan (68th overall). He started at left guard as a rookie last season to mostly bad reviews. He allowed 11 sacks, the most at left guard in the NFL in 2021. He also had a grade of 49.6 (F) from Pro Football Focus. He was a tackle in college, and the Falcons knew he would struggle in his new position.

2020 – Matt Hennessy, C, Temple (78). He started last season and was solid. He’ll have to beat out Drew Dalman next season. He had a 77.1 grade and gave up three sacks last season.

2019 No selection made in the third round.

2018 – Deadrin Senat, DT, South Florida (90). He played in 22 games and made two starts. He was waived by the Falcons on Nov. 8 and is out of the league.

2017 – Duke Riley, LB, LSU (75). He was drafted to be a starter at weakside linebacker. He lost his job and was traded to the Eagles in his third season. He has stuck around the NFL as a special-teams player. He was with Miami in 2021.

2016 – Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford (81). He was developed into an alternate Pro Bowler in 2018 and 2019. He signed a lucrative contract with Cleveland but was cut after two seasons. He recently signed with the Titans.

2015 – Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana (73). He had four productive seasons with the team and helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI as Devonta Freeman’s backup. He signed with the 49ers in free agency after the 2019 season. He was with the Jets last season and re-signed with them this offseason.

2014 – Dezmen Southward, S, Wisconsin (68). He was over-drafted based on his height (6-foot-2), weight (211 pounds) and speed (4.38 in 40-yard dash). He lacked football instincts and lasted only 19 games with the Falcons and one game with the Panthers.

2013 – No selection in the third round.

2012 – Lamar Holmes, OT, Southern Mississippi (91). Was drafted to be the starter at right tackle. He started 19 of 21 games over 2012-14. He spent some time with the Lions in 2015 and 2016, but never played after the 2014 season.

8. New coaches: The Falcons made some moves with their coaching staff Tuesday.

T.J. Yates was named the Falcons wide receivers coach and Mario Jeberaeel the assistant offensive line coach.

The team also hired Steve Jackson as a senior offensive assistant, Shawn Flaherty as a football analyst, Steven King as the diversity coaching intern and Nick Edwards as an offensive assistant.

Yates, who played at Pope High and North Carolina, was the passing-game specialist last season.

Jeberaeel served as the Falcons’ diversity coaching intern in 2021, working primarily with the offensive line.

Jackson is entering his 19th season as a coach in the NFL, having spent the past two seasons as a secondary/cornerbacks coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Flaherty spent the past three seasons (2019-21) with the Miami Dolphins.

King spent the past three seasons as a special-teams quality-control coach at North Carolina.

Edwards joins the Falcons’ staff after most recently serving as the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Cal Poly from 2020 to ‘21.

9. Falcons’ 2021 season-review series: We have used a heavy dose of analytics to help us break down the Falcons’ 2021 season in our eight-part series. Here are the links to the stories.

Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

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