In the wake of the firings of coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was not taken aback by owner Arthur Blank’s reluctance to say he was the quarterback of the future.
Ryan, 35, is under contract through 2023 and had stated his desire to play until he’s 40. Blank said he wants the new general manager and coach to determine the direction of the franchise.
“Forever, the line in the locker room has been that we rent these lockers,” Ryan said. “You have to go out and pay that rent and earn your spot day-in and day-out. That’s regardless of if you’re in Year 1 or Year 13 or wherever, that’s our responsibility as players, all of the time, to go out there and perform. That’s what we are paid to do.”
Since being selected third overall in the 2008 NFL draft, Ryan has performed admirably. He guided the team to the playoffs as a rookie and made playoff trips in four of his first six seasons in the league. He’s wrestled away all of the franchise’s key passing records from Steve Bartkowski.
He’s played in two NFC Championship games and led the Falcons to Super Bowl LI, while becoming the first player from the franchise to win the league’s MVP.
But since blowing the 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl and losing in the divisional round to the Eagles the following season, the Falcons have fallen on hard times. After two 7-9 seasons and a 0-5 start to this one, Quinn and Dimitroff were fired Sunday.
Blank’s reluctance to endorse Ryan was shocking to some onlookers.
“I don’t worry about it,” Ryan said. “I understand where everyone is coming from. I understand where I’m at in my career.”
For now, Ryan, who signed a six-year, $150 million contract extension in May 2018, will try to get ready for the rest of the season. The Falcons are set to play the Vikings (1-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I also believe in compartmentalizing things and focusing on what’s in front of us this week and the job that I have to do,” Ryan said. “We’ve got 11 ballgames to go in this season. We have to find a way to get some wins and get back in the mix.”
However, there is no mix to get back into.
With an additional playoff spot -- up to seven from six -- the Falcons have not been mathematically eliminated. They have a 2.2% chance to make the playoffs, according to footballoutsiders.com.
From 1990-2020, 61 teams started the year 0-5. The average finish of those teams was 4-12. Over that period, no team of the 61 made the playoffs.
Three teams have battled back to 8-8, including the 2009 Titans and two teams went on to finish 0-16, including the 2017 Cleveland Browns.
The Falcons have a better chance of finishing poorly and landing valuable draft picks for the new regime. However, Blank and president Rich McKay would not speak of such a notion.
The players know the team could elect to rebuild.
“I can’t worry about that yet,” Ryan said. "It’s not like we’re making this transition and it’s the end of December. We’re in the middle of October, and we have 11 games in front of us.
“Worrying about those things is going to distract us, as players, from what we need to do. That’s prepare ourselves and get ready for the Minnesota Vikings this weekend. I’m sure that they are not all that concerned with how we are going to rebuild or re-structure our organization moving forward. They are trying to get a win this Sunday.”
The firings were tough on Ryan and most of the players.
“I really believe during times like this that you have to do a really good job of compartmentalizing things,” Ryan said. “Focus on what’s in front of you and keep your focus very narrow. That’s the message that I’m pushing to all of the guys.”
Ryan knows that he and the offense must get in gear.
Ryan hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in 11 quarters, since he tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Hurst in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 27.
You have to go back to Ryan’s rookie season to find back-to-back games where he didn’t throw a touchdown pass. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass against Denver on Nov. 16, 2008 (24-20 loss) and the following week against Carolina on Nov. 23, 2008 (45-28 win).
Over 194 career games, Ryan hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in only 22 of those games, and five of them were in his rookie season. He has five more over the past two seasons (3 in 2019 and 2 this season).
Ryan had at least one touchdown in every regular-season game during the 2016 season on the team’s march to Super Bowl LI.
Ryan is aware of the drought.
“I think we’ve moved the ball pretty well between the 20s, but we haven’t scored the way we need to score the last two weeks,” Ryan said. “That’s what we’ve got to fix. I think we had eight possessions last week, I think we scored on four of them, but we’ve got to turn those into touchdowns. We have to quit coming away with three points when we are down their low, quit turning the ball over in the red zone.”
Ryan may have to fix those issues without wide receiver Julio Jones, who didn’t practice Wednesday and has missed two games this season.
“We really just have to make a play or two when we get our chances, whether it be first down, second down or third down,” Ryan said. “In the red area, when we get our chances to attack, we have to nail it.”
Without Jones for most of the season and the Falcons trying to break in Hurst at tight end, Ryan admitted that the timing of the passing attack is off.
“It’s just off a little bit, really,” Ryan said. "It’s never as bad, it’s never as good when you watch the film. It’s never as far off as you might think it is. It’s always a little bit closer.
“We’ve got to create some momentum. We have to make a play when we need to make a play. Get some momentum going. Get some confidence built and let that kind of build. If we can do that, we’re definitely close than we are far.”
Falcons' next four games
Falcons at Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18al trial
Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25
Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29
Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8
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