Originally written October 23, 2011 on Fox Sports South:
Atlanta_falcons_matt_60c6
His stats weren't impressive, but on a day when one of his offensive tackles stepped on his ankle and bent it as if it were a piece of silly putty, few will remember that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw two interceptions. Instead, they'll remember Ryan coming out of the locker room after having an injured knee examined, and, on his first play from scrimmage, connecting with wide receiver Harry Douglas for a 49-yard gain, Ryan's longest of the day, and that the Falcons defeated Detroit 23-16 at Ford Field to record their first back-to-back wins of the season and go above .500 for the first time this season at 4-3. Three plays later after connecting with Douglas, Matt Bryant made a 47-field goal to put the Falcons up by 11. It was a key play in the game since Detroit (5-2), now just a game ahead of Atlanta in the NFC Wildcard race, scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson on its next series to draw within 20-16 and seize momentum for a time. Having a lead of more than a field goal allowed the Falcons to keep from panicking and they stuck with their run game, which helped them to win the time of possession battle and keep Johnson virtually Detroit's only offensive weapon -- off the field. In the end, Falcons running back Michael Turner rushed the ball 27 times for 122 yards the 21-carry mark and 100-yard plateau both seem to be magic numbers for the Falcons and when Turner hits them, they win as the Falcons kept the ball for 34:57 to the Lions' 25:03. Ryan finished 20-for-34 for 218 yards with a touchdown, the two picks and a rating of 63.1, his second-lowest of the season. He also was sacked three times, including once in the third quarter when left tackle Will Svitek, starting in place of the injured Sam Baker, stepped with the full brunt of his 308 pounds squarely on Ryan's ankle, that the pressure buckled the quarterback's knee, and Ryan crumpled to the ground. Ryan required medical attention, went to the locker room and then returned quickly enough so that venerable back-up Chris Redman, who had yet to play this season, only had to stay in the game for two plays: a 2-yard run by Turner and an incomplete pass. The unflappable Ryan that's why they call him "Matty Ice" then promptly threw the 49-yard completion on third-and-8 from the Falcons' 22 with 6:45 left in the third quarter. No sweat. Ryan is a stoic inclined to downplay his own actions as much as possible and also to allow as little information as possible about him or his team to become public. During 2009 when he suffered a turf toe injury that caused him to miss two games and all but one series of a third, indications were that the injury was incredibly painful and for Ryan to come back as quickly as he did was an act of mind over matter. I also was told a story once by a reporter who covered Ryan during his days at Boston College. At the end of Ryan's junior season, after Tom O'Brien had left as head coach to take the job at North Carolina State, one of the trainers gathered the media essentially to tell them that Ryan had played six games with a broken metatarsal in his left foot a fact that O'Brien would not make public nor was Ryan read to volunteer. Ryan went 4-2 on an otherwise forgettable BC team. Circle back to this season. After a 35-31 victory against Philadelphia in Week 2 in which Ryan was sacked four times and the Eagles' Cullen Jenkins subsequently was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ryan, Falcons head coach Mike Smith referred to his quarterback as a "tough Irishman." On Sunday, with his steadying leadership of the Falcons offense, Ryan threw a 10-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez for a first down after the Lions drew within four points. Ryan drove the Falcons to the Lions 18 before overthrowing Gonzalez, a play that resulted in an interception. Fortunately for Atlanta, the defense forced a three-and-out and Ryan again drove them for a field goal, pushing the Falcons' lead back to seven. He completed four passes on that drive, the longest of which was a 14-yarder to Roddy White all on a knee of uncertain strength. It seems the Falcons have hit their bye week at the right time. During Ryan's weekly visit with the media on Wednesday, I asked him if a quarterback has to be more aware of Ndamukong Suh, the Lions defensive end who tends to do quarterbacks what lions do to, well, wildebeest. At the time I thought he was feigning nonchalance. "You can't worry about that stuff too much," Ryan said. "You know going into each week, it's going to be a physical grind for that 60 minutes. You can't pay attention to what guys are doing after the whistle and those type of things. You've just got to keep playing and I think guys will keep that in mind all week." Apparently, Falcons players said after the game that Suh taunted Ryan during the game about his knee. But if there's one thing we've come to learn about Ryan in his four seasons in the NFL it's that Matty Ice doesn't seem to be fazed by pressure whether it's mental or physical.
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