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While blocking out the noise, Matt Ryan still focused on that elusive Super Bowl


Goober Pyle
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http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/17267110/nfl-matt-ryan-atlanta-falcons-chasing-elusive-super-bowl

 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Matt Ryan tried not to dwell on it. You know: Out of sight, out of mind.

By chance, the dreadful memories of a 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game resurfaced for the Atlanta Falcons quarterback. Ryan hadn't watched the game in its entirety since before training camp of 2014. But in October, a Showtime documentary about former teammate Tony Gonzalez incorporated clips from the gut-wrenching defeat.

"I saw a little bit of it," Ryan said. "Obviously, yeah, there's disappointment that goes along with that."

Ryan no doubt wondered what might have been had he found an open Gonzalez on a fourth-and-4 from San Francisco's 10-yard line late in regulation, or what might have been had the Falcons sustained the momentum of a 17-0 start.

Matt Ryan says he can handle the criticism that goes with being a $100 million quarterback, but it's not as easy when it gets to his loved ones.

"It's like any game, right? It's not just one thing," Ryan said. "There are a handful of opportunities that come up throughout a game. Certainly, we had our chances when we were in the tight red zone. I think we had four opportunities from inside the [20]. You'd like to have any one of those back where you could make that play. But that's the nature of the game when you fall short, right? You wish you did some things differently."

Critics might have viewed Ryan differently had he guided the Falcons to the Super Bowl that year. Instead, the skeptics see a player with a 1-4 playoff record and no Super Bowl appearances entering a crucial ninth year. The talk of "Matty Ice" being among the elite quarterbacks has cooled, at least outside of the Falcons organization.

A recent ESPN survey conducted with 42 league insiders placed Ryan in the bottom half of 13 second-tier of quarterbacks behind first-tier quarterbacks Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger.

"I believe Matt is an elite quarterback," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "Matt was the third pick in the draft [in 2008]. He's played a lot of good football. But being an elite quarterback also has to do with the people around you. Nobody is elite on their own."

Ryan, 31, isn't consumed with outside perception. It's been his motto to block out the noise. However, he's not totally immune to it. It annoys him, to a degree.

"I think a lot of times, maybe it affects some of the people around you more than it affects you, and that part of it isn't fun," the typically reserved Ryan said. "Obviously, when your wife is pissed off about something, that part of it isn't fun."

 

Criticism has mounted, in large part, as a result of Ryan's financial status. He enters the 2016 season as one of 11 quarterbacks averaging $20 million-plus per season. Eight of the 11 -- Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Rodgers and Roethlisberger -- have made it to the Super Bowl, with the latter seven winning titles. And two of the others -- Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck -- have four and three playoffs wins, respectively, so more than Ryan.

When a quarterback is set to make more than $100 million over a five-year period and eats up more than $20 million in cap space each of the next three seasons, the standards are raised.

"It's kind of the going rate," Ryan said of the $100 million plateau. "That's not to be funny or anything. As you see now, we play our position and we go out and compete, and this is what I've done since 13 -- played quarterback. It's never been about [money]. I'm not complaining. [Money] is just one of the things that come along with it. With that comes added criticism, and there's a certain expectation.

"What I need to do is do my job as best I can and not worry about what everyone else thinks about what you're getting paid. This is something that comes up for every quarterback. It doesn't matter. It doesn't affect the outcome of games. For me, the things that are important are the things that affect the outcome of games. That's what I focus on."

Ryan signed his contract in July 2013, well before the Falcons experienced a dramatic freefall. They've missed the playoffs the past three seasons while compiling an 18-30 mark. Ryan surpassing 4,500 passing yards in each of those seasons didn't really matter in the grand scheme.

 

Ryan points the finger at himself often, and the team admires his candor. Regardless, it's hard to fathom how the Falcons imploded so suddenly.

"There are a lot of reasons you don't win," Ryan said. "There's been a lot of turnover; there's been a lot of change. Three years ago, it was a four-win season. The year after, it was not a very good season [6-10]. Last season was a little bit improved from those two. We just need to keep improving, keep getting better. And I like the team that we have now."

Only four NFC title game starters remain -- Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who just returned after a one-year stop in Arizona. The franchise's all-time leading receiver, Roddy White, was released. There is a new coach in second-year man Dan Quinn, who replaced Mike Smith. Shanahan is Ryan's third offensive coordinator since 2011.

The relationship between Ryan and Shanahan is, undoubtedly, the key component for the offense moving forward and arguably the most crucial element for the team's success. Ryan freely admitted the offense was overwhelming at times last season after playing in similar-style offenses under coordinators Mike Mularkey and Dirk Koetter.

"For seven years, you're on autopilot out there," Ryan said. "You're not thinking about all those things. And then it takes time away during the offseason of trying to get things down pat so when you get out on the field, you can teach and help from that capacity. That change is difficult."

Ryan continues to emphasize how much more comfortable he feels in Year 2 of Shanahan's scheme. The Falcons aided his cause by adding a three-time Pro Bowl center in Alex Mack, complementary receivers to Jones in Mohamed Sanu and rookie tight end Austin Hooper, and a new voice to bounce ideas off of in veteran quarterback Matt Schaub. None of those enhancements will matter if Ryan and Shanahan don't remain on the same page.

"He's more aggressive now. Last year, I think he wasn't as aggressive. But this year, he's just so much more aggressive."

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Julio Jones on Matt Ryan

Much has been made about the rollouts and bootlegs expected of Ryan in Shanahan's offense. The general consensus is such plays neglect Ryan's primary strength as an accurate pocket passer.

"When you look at our outside-the-pocket stuff last year, we were really, really efficient," Ryan said. "I know that was a question I had to answer a lot about, 'Do you like this? Do you not like this?' It helped us. And at the end of the day, if it helps us, I love it. And it's actually something I do pretty well. I throw it really well on the run.

"I've also learned a lot about myself too, as I've gotten older in my career, morphing some of the things that I like into his scheme. I thought Kyle did a great job of adjusting to that and taking some of what I did, taking some of what he did, and making it 'our' offense moving forward."

Ryan took it upon himself this offseason to fine-tune aspects totally under his control, such as footwork and improving deep-ball accuracy. Both have been noticeable throughout training camp.

"Just the way he's improved, his arm has gotten a lot stronger," Jones said of Ryan. "He's more aggressive now. Last year, I think he wasn't as aggressive. But this year, he's just so much more aggressive. Sometimes you've got to do that while making sure everybody's on the same page with the communication."

Now, Ryan has to elevate his play once the action goes live. The coaches want him to show the same composure through four quarters that he's displayed in 27 career game-winning drives.

 

Reflecting on last season takes Ryan back to his 21 total turnovers, including four red-zone interceptions. He strongly denied suffering any type of injury that affected his accuracy. He freely admitted he simply made some poor decisions, ones he vows to correct. And he refused to call out his receivers although they contributed to the downfall by combining for 30 drops, second-most in the league.

"I think quarterback play comes down to third-down conversions and you've got to score points," Ryan said. "You don't want to turn the football over, but you have to play aggressive. ... I think where we need to improve the most is the red zone. We have to be more efficient in the red zone. We have to score more touchdowns."

Obviously Ryan's ultimate goal is the Super Bowl. He's talked to a number of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks about their process in winning a title, although Ryan wouldn't reveal which ones he spoke to or the specifics of those conversations.

Winning a Super Bowl might not happen immediately, with the roster still going through a transformation, the defense still trying to find its footing, and Carolina still the team to catch in the NFC South. But those factors won't deter Ryan's aspirations.

He wants someday to reflect on highlights from a Super Bowl victory, not a near miss.

"I think [the Super Bowl] is the reason that you prepare and do all the things that you need to do in order to get ready to play," Ryan said. "You want to pull your weight within the team, and you want to give your team an opportunity to win one. I think that's everybody's motivation.

"We're not going after one team. We're not trying to be [Carolina] or be better than them or any of that. We've been in that position, too, where we've won the division. It's not about that. It's being the best we can be. It's controlling how hard we compete at this time of the year and making sure that, 'Who cares about everybody else? Let's make sure that we're the best team we can be at the end of this training camp so we're ready to compete for 16 weeks.'"

Edited by Goober Pyle
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I firmly beleive Ryan is still fully capable of winning us a SB but like all QBs needs help from the rest of the team to do so.  I knew we had a lot of drops last season but didn't know we were 2nd in the league.  Folks on here really need to let that sink in.  If people can't understand that didn't help accumulate some of those turnovers then there is just no hope for them.

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I will admit, I have been a critic of Ryan, he has made mistakes but I still believe he can come through. My biggest concern for Matt was the building of a stout oline for years... Now I believe he has that and I hope things are finally looking up.

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A big part of Matt's issues last year were he was over thinking it out there and in the film room. He needs to react more and put his faith into the system. This year he should have the time to not be rushed. He should have the tools to help. All he has to do is let go of the shell shock.

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I was 19 before I started watching football. 19 years old. That's way late to start getting interested in a sport. But honestly, had I not watched Matt Ryan play one fine day I would have probably never started watching football. Matt Ryan is literally the reason I started watching football. How many players can say that. He stands tall on the field as a leader and an incredible athlete. He has poise and grace and everything else you could want in a person. Even before I knew what a good QB was his talent stood out to me.

 

Mark my words, Ryan WILL win a super bowl.

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Ryan needs to play better in 2016. If he had played in 2015 the way he did in 2012, the Falcons would have made the playoffs.

Hopefully the second season in the Shanahan system will be a turning point.

Ryan has not been the biggest problem with the team, more often he has been a positive. Last year he was not good, by his own standards. 

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Critics might have viewed Ryan differently had he guided the Falcons to the Super Bowl that year. Instead, the skeptics see a player with a 1-4 playoff record and no Super Bowl appearances entering a crucial ninth year. The talk of "Matty Ice" being among the elite quarterbacks has cooled, at least outside of the Falcons organization.

Criticism has mounted, in large part, as a result of Ryan's financial status. He enters the 2016 season as one of 11 quarterbacks averaging $20 million-plus per season. Eight of the 11 --Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Rodgers and Roethlisberger -- have made it to the Super Bowl, with the latter seven winning titles. And two of the others -- Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck -- have four and three playoffs wins, respectively, so more than Ryan.

When a quarterback is set to make more than $100 million over a five-year period and eats up more than $20 million in cap space each of the next three seasons, the standards are raised.

Reflecting on last season takes Ryan back to his 21 total turnovers, including four red-zone interceptions. He strongly denied suffering any type of injury that affected his accuracy. He freely admitted he simply made some poor decisions, ones he vows to correct. 

:lol: how trollish is that.

The great thing about MR is that unlike his sycophantic supporters, he has always held himself accountable...I like that about him.

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6 hours ago, RandomFan said:

Great article. Really takes the legs out from under a lot of the Shanahan bashers. Kyle doesn't adjust his scheme to fit Ryan? Wrong. Ryan doesn't like nor is good at the rollouts? Wrong.

Well, what did you expect him to say?

(Also, Julio says Ryan's arm strength is better and he's more aggressive).

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6 hours ago, RandomFan said:

Great article. Really takes the legs out from under a lot of the Shanahan bashers. Kyle doesn't adjust his scheme to fit Ryan? Wrong. Ryan doesn't like nor is good at the rollouts? Wrong.

Not for me he may like the roll outs but he is best as a pocket passer period. Shanahan refuses to play to Ryan's strengths (no huddle, rhythm mindset, 5 step drop) and I can't wait to see how much Shanahan adjusts his scheme to help Ryan LOL. If Ryan is more aggressive in this offense he will throw more or as many interceptions than last year. I just don't see the oil and water coming together and it goes without saying I'm a huge Ryan fan.

 

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