, the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback, chafed from an 0-2 record in the playoffs, is well aware of the magnitude and finality of such games without the continual reminders. And he does not need to hear the seemingly endless loop that points out how quarterbacks are judged ultimately on whether their teams prosper in the postseason.
“Just not let all the outside things affect your preparation,” he said of the fresh approach. “Anybody who says they never hear or see this stuff to a certain degree is lying. You don’t think you are affected by it.”
In hindsight, Ryan, a perfectionist, realized he was unduly affected. So he has switched to alternate programming on the home screen, probably video of himself at work. In the off-season, Ryan endured an estimated 15 replays of the from the Green Bay Packers, in which he was intercepted twice and lost a fumble.
Two years before, against the Arizona Cardinals, there was the same personal turnover count — two picks, one fumble. And a similar result.
Beginning his third tournament go-round, Ryan aspires to approximate the leap made by Giants quarterback Eli Manning after he was 0-2 in win-or-else games.
“I think he won a ,” Ryan said knowingly at the team’s training complex. “I think he did play well.”
Any quarterback drafted as early as No. 3 over all, as he was, arrives with the bar placed neck-craning high. It is raised higher now that Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and a select few others dissect defenses with robotic efficiency, earning them the common identifier that all passers crave: elite.
Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, attempting to tamp down unreasonable expectations for Ryan, was quoted recently saying teams could contend for the Super Bowl with quarterbacks “on very valid levels below that elite level.”
Ryan wields neither remarkable maneuverability nor a howitzer-like arm. His skills include a capacity to lead and a firm grasp on how the position should be played.
“He commanded the huddle as soon as he got here” in 2008, center Todd McClure said.
During the lockout, it was Ryan who organized player practices.
Dimitroff has afforded Ryan sufficient receivers, signing the likely Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in 2009 and nearly emptying the vault of future draft picks last year to draft Julio Jones. With the longtime Falcon Roddy White, who has had 100 or more receptions in consecutive seasons, they form a menacing threesome that can hand-deliver a quarterback to elite status.
Ryan’s passer rating, according to the N.F.L. formula, surged to . Twice before in a four-year career, he was 11th. A statistical evaluation called . (Last season, he was behind only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.)
Ryan’s lofty ranking comes despite 37 dropped passes by teammates, tied for second most, and excessive breakdowns in pass protection. He has absorbed nearly all of the team’s 73 quarterback hits, tied for fifth highest.
“I love that quarterback,” Gonzalez said after Ryan’s decision to sign a one-year deal for 2012 was announced last weekend. “Matt Ryan was a big part of that.”
Ryan’s acuity was so ripened as a rookie that Coach Mike Smith went to a no-huddle offense in Week 2. Now the tactic is deployed in every game, to varying degrees, and has become Ryan’s calling card.
“He’s been very masterful at it this year,” tackle Tyson Clabo said. “How well he has managed our no-huddle — it’s a lot for one person.”
The Falcons’ no-huddle has multiple purposes: sometimes with the conventional goal of accelerating the pace, other times to moderate it by running down the play clock while hindering situation substitution by the defense.
Ryan, ever modest, nonetheless takes pride in his competence with the no-huddle. At the line of scrimmage, he can summon any of a few dozen plays from a mental file, conveying the selection audibly at home games and with hand signals on the road to combat the din.
“I’ve done a lot better at putting guys in position to make plays,” he said. “It’s rewarding. It’s satisfying.”
Those feel-good sensations would heighten with a victory against the Giants on Sunday. Gonzalez, the team’s elder statesman, said of the playoffs: “Eventually, you’ve got to start performing, get your team wins. It’s not just on him.”
Even the Falcons’ owner, Arthur Blank, does not shy away from Ryan’s current oh-fer. During a speech to a civic group last week, he said, “You judge a quarterback on how he does in the fourth quarter and the postseason.”
The consensus in the locker room holds that Ryan, who has engineered 16 fourth-quarter comebacks in the N.F.L., needs no January or February victories to validate his worth.
“To me, a quarterback is either good or not,” McClure said. “It doesn’t have to be about postseason wins.”
White said, “Matt’s doing a good job of getting us there and getting us an opportunity.”
To running back Michael Turner, the pair of playoff defeats belong in the distant past.
“That was the young Matt,” Turner said. “He’s been on fire the past couple of weeks.”
A lesson culled by Ryan from those losses, in which he completed two of every three throws, is that outcomes often hinge on the execution of three or four plays. The allusion to his turnovers was unmistakable.
“You have to be smart as a quarterback and make plays when they are presented; take what’s there,” he said, hoping that such an approach will keep sports shows off the TVs at home for another week or two.