Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 10/16/11
ATLANTA -- Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has his pro wrestler-imitating, championship-belt miming gesture and Cam Newton unfurled a mini-Deion Sanders "Prime Time" dance followed up by a Superman move after a score in Carolina's meeting at Atlanta on Sunday. Under-stated and buttoned up as Matt Ryan is, don't expect the Falcons quarterback ever to adopt anything as gaudy and -- dare we say -- as taunting as what his opposite number in each of the last two weeks might have done at one time or another. Nonetheless, with the Falcons' season poised on the razor's edge of falling to 2-4 with a road game at 5-1 Detroit next week or evening up at 3-3 against an NFC South opponent, Matty Ice once again re-affirmed his moniker, making two huge throws in the fourth quarter of the Falcons' 31-17 victory over the Panthers at the Georgia Dome. With the game knotted at 17-17, Ryan twice completed third-down conversions to keep the drive alive, culminating in a 1-yard quarterback sneak by none other than himself for what proved to be the winning score. Facing third-and-six with 11:03 to play in regulation, Ryan first completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez for a first down at the Panthers' 45. Then facing third-and-12 from the Panthers' 47, Ryan found Harry Douglas, starting in place of the injured Julio Jones, for 34 yards with 9:29 left. Gonzalez wasn't ready to say those plays might have turned the team's season around, but he did see them as key moments in what has unequivocally been a disappointing start for a team picked by some to win the Super Bowl. "I don't know if it turns the whole season around," Gonzalez said. "It's something you can build on, definitely, knowing that you can come up with the plays when you have to and I'm just happy that they called my number. I'm very comfortable with that, being in that situation, and Matt put the ball on the money, so it's just about going out there whether it's me or Roddy (White) or Julio or whoever's in that situation, you've got to make that play in a passing situation. "But I'm not going to say that it's all the sudden going to turn our season around, but it is going to help us with confidence going forward." In terms of quarterback rating, Ryan had his best performance of the season, posting a 101.1. He took a pummeling early this season with 13 sacks in the first three games and, as with any quarterback, it affected his performance. Ryan threw four interceptions in those three games. In the last three, however, during which the Falcons have won two, Ryan has only been sacked twice, including just once on Sunday. He finished 14-of-22 for 163 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Not coincidentally, Ryan only has two interceptions in his last three games, both of those coming in last week's 25-14 loss to Green Bay -- one of them a ball tipped by one of his own receivers. Sunday's performance was the kind the Falcons want: a limited number of throws with more running plays than passes and Ryan managing the game but winning it when it's on the line. For Douglas' 34-yarder -- the Falcons' longest pass of the day -- Ryan found the receiver in man coverage. "Harry got behind the defender in man coverage," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "It was an outstanding throw that Matt was able to put right on target and that kept the drive going." Douglas is usually the Falcons' slot receiver but moved out wide with Jones, the team's leading receiver in yardage as a rookie, out with a hamstring injury. "I kind of felt Matt was going to come to me," Douglas said. The defender "tried to undercut me, but Matt threw a great ball. He threw it high so I just caught it and started to run with it." Ryan typically deferred credit for the successful plays on the drive. "They were obviously big plays," he said. " (Gonzalez) just ran a great route. He had man-to-man coverage and had patience on the route, got his depth and that one came open pretty good. The one to Harry, again, similar type route to what we had with Tony and, again, ran a really good route. "Put me in a position where I could lay it out there and let him run to get it, so those guys made big plays on third down so that really helped us." Gonzalez and Douglas, in Ryan's words, ran great routes. They made the big plays, not him. But it's usually the quarterback who gets the blame when things go bad -- as Ryan has -- and the credit when things go right. On this Sunday, he deserved the credit.
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