Matt Ryan excels in season’s first win

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Matt Ryan claims he didn’t approach this week any differently.

He said he kept the same demeanor and process despite the fact owner Arthur Blank elected to fire coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff only five games into the 2020 season. He said nothing changed when Blank offered a noncommittal answer about Ryan’s future during last Monday’s news conference.

Ryan, 35, has been with the Falcons since the organization selected him with the third-overall pick in 2008. He’s had plenty of major moments throughout his illustrious career. But after dropping the first five games of the season, with the aforementioned events taking place, it’s hard to think anyone could ignore those potential distractions.

But Ryan, who also had to deal with the cancellation of Thursday’s practice due to an assistant coach testing positive for COVID-19, remained steady with what was thrown his way. And it was Ryan who came through with his best performance of the 2020 season in the Falcons’ 40-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Ryan was calm, efficient and accurate throughout the game. He was on target with his throws and had plenty of help from his offensive line. Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns, with an average yards per attempt of 9.3.

“I think that’s always the mindset I’ve had, to go out there and play my best every week,” Ryan said. “We have to earn everything we get in this profession. I don’t think it really changed my approach or anything. I believe I have a really good process and a way to get ready week in and week out. I trust that process.”

Part of what went into Ryan’s strong outing was having receiver Julio Jones back in the fold. Jones has been nursing a lingering hamstring this season that forced him to miss games against the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers while exiting Week 4′s contest against the Green Bay Packers at halftime.

Ryan’s longtime favorite target hauled in eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

But Ryan did a great job spreading his passes around in what was a vintage outing for the most successful quarterback in Falcons history. Ryan distributed the ball to nine different players and also tossed touchdown passes to receiver Calvin Ridley and tight end Hayden Hurst.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) celebrates with wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) after Ridley caught a pass for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (David Berding/AP)

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Through everything that’s happened over the past five weeks, Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris, who became an assistant with the club when Quinn was hired in 2015, said he didn’t see anything different from Ryan that would have indicated such a big day was coming.

“I’d be telling you a story if I told you it was different,” Morris said. “The way Matt Ryan practices and the way he prepares is the same all the time. I have the utmost respect for the guy. He’s unbelievable. He’ll always be that way. I’ll never say this week of practice was better than any other because of how he prepares.”

Much of Ryan and the offense’s success against the Vikings came on third and fourth downs. The Falcons converted nine of 17 third-down chances and each of their three fourth-down plays. Ryan completed eight of 10 passes on third down for 113 yards and a touchdown. With his first third-down throw going to Jones for a touchdown, Ryan’s other seven third-down completions moved the chains for first downs.

Ryan also threw two touchdowns on fourth down, with one going to Jones and the other finding Hurst. The one to Jones was unique since it saw Ryan scramble to his left before backing up a couple of steps with linebacker Eric Kendricks sprinting toward him. But Ryan was able to loft the ball past cornerback Jeff Gladney to Jones, who then took the play for a 40-yard score to put the Falcons up 30-7 in the third quarter.

With Ryan moving the chains, and with the defense forcing three interceptions and four punts, the Falcons controlled the ball for over 40 minutes.

“When you have time of possession like we did today it’s deflating to your opponent,” Ryan said. “Not only to have the time of possession but to come away with touchdowns the way that we did and score the amount of points we did, it shows what we’re capable of doing. We have to find a way to be at that level week in and week out.”

Ryan seemed to have a sense of relief when he sat down for this week’s virtual post-game news conference. It was the first time in six weeks he could talk about a win and what that meant to him, especially with the turmoil the Falcons have faced this year.

At 1-5 after six weeks, a trip to the postseason is unlikely. But in keeping with the mindset of not listening to what anyone else has to say, Ryan remains hopeful that the Falcons can gradually climb back into the NFC South picture. Although Blank mentioned that Ryan’s future is in the hands of the next coach and general manager, he said he’s still focused on doing his part to win games in the present.

“To me, the goal is to win championships,” Ryan said. “Winning a game here and there — it’s about the end result. I don’t focus on what’s being said. I don’t focus on things going outside the building. I focus on the guys we’re working with. It’s satisfying in the respect that we all worked hard together to get this win today and we need to, quite frankly, stack a bunch more to find a way to get back in the mix.”