Matt Ryan plays for a team with a 6-1 record, which theoretically should create a comfort level in his home city — especially given that city’s problems have never included too many messy streets from too many ticker-tape parades.
But Ryan is a starting NFL quarterback, and he makes a lot of money, so the bar is higher for him than any other athlete in Atlanta.
He has made too many mistakes this season: Three multi-interception games, four fumbles (two lost), a drop-off in completion percentage. The celebration of the Falcons’ start has been tempered by doubts about their quarterback. He gets that, and he’s not running from it.
When I spoke to Ryan this week, I asked him what percentage of his problems he would attribute to his mistakes, receivers’ mistakes or his familiarity with a new offense.
“Any quarterback who tells you the second or third isn’t worth anything,” he responded. “No matter what the situation is, it comes down to me being better.”
Adjusting to a new offensive scheme isn’t a factor?
“It’s me making a poor decision or a poor throw. It doesn’t come from me not knowing what I’m supposed to do. There’s certainly a learning curve. But I don’t attribute any of it to, ‘Gosh, I don’t know what this play is.’”
He is taking ownership. It’s what a quarterback and a leader should do. The question now is whether things will improve.
Ryan is convinced it will. He said, “The difference in being really good and where we’re at now is not much.” He said he believes in teammates, the system, the coaches.
Most of all, “I know what I’m capable of doing. That makes me feel like we’re going to be better than we’ve been — and because we’ve done it better than we’ve done it the last couple of weeks.”
Two weeks ago, the Falcons lost at New Orleans 31-21, during which the Falcons lost three fumbles (one by Ryan). Last week, they won at Tennessee by a hiccup, 10-7. Ryan threw two interceptions. He has thrown two interceptions in three of the Falcons’ first seven games, which is a full-season pace of seven multi-interception games, which would exceed any of his previous seasons (4, 5, 2, 4, 2, 4, 3).
The Falcons have elements of the “West Coast” offense in their scheme, which utilizes a high-percentage passing attack. But Ryan has completed less than 58 percent of his passes in two of the past three games and for the season has connected on only 64.4 percent of his attempts (16th in the NFL, fourth best in eight seasons). His current efficiency rating of 88.9 also ranks only 16th (sixth best of his eight seasons and well below his 99.1 in his 2012 season).
But he can still win games, even when things aren’t going well. Consider the Washington game three weeks ago. Ryan threw an interception on the Falcons’ first drive, and the offense produced only two field goals in the first seven possessions. But he drove the team to touchdown drives of 91 and 80 yards late in the third and fourth quarters, and the Falcons won in overtime.
These analytics also are worth noting: He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter (45-of-64) and is 16-of-21 (76.2 percent) for 194 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions (rating: 119.9) when trailing with less than four minutes remaining.
Ryan was given a six-year, $103.75 million contract extension before the 2013 season. With that comes expectations. If and until Ryan leads the Falcons to a Super Bowl, some are going to question whether he was worth that deal.
“I understand there’s criticism that comes with that (contract),” he said. “But that has never changed my expectations. I expect to play well every time I go out there. My first contract was the same deal: It was, ‘Rookies shouldn’t be making what they’re making.’ But to me, you have to prove yourself every time you go on the field.”
Money, visibility and social media have turned sports into a game-to-game series of report cards.
“Everybody’s crowned the champions of this week or last week,” Ryan said.
That doesn’t thrill him, but he knows he has to be better.
“I remember (former Falcons quarterbacks coach) Bill Musgrave telling me when I was a rookie, ‘You’re one play away from being humbled every time you step onto the field,’” Ryan said. “You’re going to have some (bad) plays. But you can’t let it affect you from a mental standpoint. You can’t be any less aggressive than you want to be or any less confident. For me, that never changes.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.