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Matt Ryan moves beyond playoff woes with MVP performance


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Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer


ATLANTA -- Maybe folks will stop talking about his 1-4 playoff start now.

Leading up to Saturday's divisional playoff showdown against the Seattle SeahawksAtlanta Falcons quarterback and lead MVP candidate Matt Ryan said he would "block out the noise" related to his postseason record.

He didn't dwell on falling one pass short of the Super Bowl during the 2012 season, with an NFC Championship Game loss to San Francisco. He had no scars from being beat up by the New York Giants one season, or being upstaged at home by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers during another.

Matt Ryan threw for 338 yards in an impressive offensive performance against the Seahawks that puts the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

All Ryan cared about was the moment at hand and handling this year's business. The first phase was a 36-20 triumph over the Seahawks, which propelled the No. 2 seed Falcons into next week's NFC Championship Game. It was the second-most points ever scored by the Falcons in a playoff game, behind the 47 scored against the Rams in 2004.

Once again, Ryan finds himself one step away from the Super Bowl.

Some critics have hesitated to thrust Ryan into the category of the "elite" because he has yet to taste the NFL's ultimate prize. Well, he and his teammates are definitely hungry for it, and it shows.

Ryan made sure there was no bye-week hangover Saturday by stepping on the gas early and never letting off. After the Seahawks milked the clock with a 14-play, 89-yard touchdown drive to start the game, Ryan came right back and engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive of his own, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass to dynamic receiver Julio Jones. The score marked the seventh consecutive game the Falcons have scored a touchdown on their opening drive.

Ryan's first half proved that he should be the league MVP. Against a Seahawks defense still expected to be formidable even without injured free safety Earl Thomas, Ryan completed 15 of 20 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns before halftime. On his second touchdown pass to a wide-open Tevin Coleman, Ryan showed tremendous footwork and balance before launching the pass. He spread the ball around to six different receivers in staking the Falcons to a 19-10 halftime lead.

The poise Ryan has played with all season is the reason why the Falcons have a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl, not just get there and be satisfied. He didn't throw an interception Saturday, meaning five consecutive games without a pick going back to the regular season. Remember, turnovers are what made last season such a miserable one for Ryan.

His final stat line read as follows: 26-of-37 for 338 yards, three touchdowns, 125.7 passer rating.

Ryan certainly was helped by some explosive plays from running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, including an ankle-breaking move by Freeman in the open field. Freeman finished with 14 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown and had four catches for 80 yards, while Coleman had 57 yards on 11 carries with three grabs for 22 yards and a score.

As long as Ryan continues to play at this level, it's hard to imagine the Falcons being stopped. They lived up to their regular-season standard in surpassing 30 points for the 12th time this season. Remember, they led the league at 33.8 points per game and were the only team to average 30-plus.

Road or home, the Falcons have the ability to outscore anyone. And they have the right person guiding the offense.

It's the same guy who set off an eruption at the end of Saturday's game with the chants coming from the stands:



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