Matt Ryan wouldn’t let Falcons lose

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has three career games of 400 yards or more passing. The Falcons lost the first two times it happened but defeated the Saints on Sunday behind Ryan.

Sunday vs. Saints

Ryan: 31-for-43 (72 percent), 448 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT

Result: Falcons 37, Saints 34 (OT)

Sept. 29, 2013 vs. Patriots

Ryan: 34-for-54 (63 percent), 421 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

Result: Patriots 30, Falcons 23

Nov. 11, 2012 at Saints

Ryan: 34-for-52 (65 percent), 411 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT

Result: Saints 31, Falcons 27

Most career touchdown passes in Falcons’ history.

Matt Ryan; 155

Steve Bartkowski; 154

Chris Miller; 87

Chris Chandler; 87

Michael Vick; 71

One of the many great “Joe Cool” moments in Joe Montana history came in a Super Bowl when the former San Francisco quarterback turned to teammate Harris Barton in the huddle with 3:20 left and his team trailing and said, “Hey, Harris. Over there in the stands. Isn’t that John Candy?” And three minutes later, like it was just another day on Candy Mountain, Montana threw a touchdown pass to win another ring.

Matt Ryan didn’t quite do that Sunday. But his ability to function at a time when many quarterbacks would melt down because of the situation was in full view when then Falcons opened the season against New Orleans, their chief rival and major nuisance.

“He’s just out there, like John Forbes Nash. He’s like our Beautiful Mind,” Falcons guard Justin Blalock said of Ryan, and he’s probably the only player on the team who could make such a literary reference to the famous mathematician. “It’s the way he sees things. He just has a feel for what everybody is going to do and how to attack things.”

Ryan sensed like never before Sunday, and attacked like never before. He threw for a career-high 448 yards and three touchdowns. He led the Falcons to a franchise record 568 yards in offense. He spread his 31 completions around to nine different receivers. Nine.

He even ran for 15 yards. There was a 9-yard scramble when Ryan looked almost … athletic.

Nobody knew whether to laugh or applaud.

“I didn’t have the breakaway speed to finish it,” Ryan said, smiling by his locker. “I was out of gas.”

Most important of all, what Ryan accomplished was he refused to let his team lose its first game. He led the Falcons back against New Orleans from deficits of 13-0, 20-7, 27-24 and, finally, 34-31 with 1:20 left. Because of Ryan’s arm and kicker Matt Bryant’s foot, the season opened with a 37-34 overtime win over the Saints, who had swept two meetings last season and won 13 of the previous 16.

“He never changes. He’s always the same on the field no matter what the situation is on the field,” wide receiver Roddy White said.

When asked if Ryan says anything on the field when an opponent keeps scoring to go ahead, as the Saints did Sunday, White responded, “Yeah. ‘Go score.’ That’s it.”

We saw the good and the bad of the Falcons in Week 1.

If the key components on this team stay healthy, which wasn’t the case last season, this ranks among the most prolific offenses in the NFL. A reshuffled and patchwork offensive line protected well, despite losing rookie left tackle Jake Matthews (ankle, seriousness unknown) and rotating Gabe Carimi and Lamar Holmes at right tackle. The offense got production from all of their wide receivers (Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester each had five to seven catches) and four running backs (Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith. Rodgers had a 17-yard touchdown run and Smith a 54-yard catch-and-blastoff for another score).

Defensively, there are issues. A lot of issues. The Falcons struggled to get pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who took advantage by throwing for 333 yards.

Amusingly, that was 115 less than the other quarterback.

This team, this offense, starts with Ryan. The Falcons likely will lose some games this season because of their defense. But they just won one because of Ryan and the offense. He was so tuned into the game, he wasn’t aware of the numbers he was accumulating.

“When you’re out there playing, you’re just seeing the situation of the game and trying to make the plays you need to make,” he said.

That, he did.