Matty Ice mired in a bit of a slump
Psst, did you hear the news? This one's a stunner, so brace yourself. Matt Ryan is NOT perfect. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback has shown his human side over the last three weeks, throwing seven interceptions after being picked off just 13 times in his first 20 regular-season games. Not all were his fault, of course. There were protection issues and tipped balls and receivers not always running the proper route. But it all comes back to the quarterback, the guy known as Matty Ice. "You've got to ride the ebb and flow of a season," Ryan said. "There's going to be ups and downs. It's a long, long year. At the end of it, you look back and kind of judge how you did. Right now, we're just grinding. We're going to continue to prepare during the week like we always do, trust that what we are doing is right and stay the course." Still, Ryan's play in the last three games - two of them losses - has raised at least a bit of concern in Atlanta, if for no other reason than it's the first significant bit of adversity to crop up in what has largely been a charmed start to his career. After being drafted No. 3 overall out of Boston College in 2008, Ryan won the quarterback job in training camp, threw for a touchdown on his very first NFL pass, led a team that was expected to struggle to an unexpected playoff berth and was named offensive rookie of the year. The Falcons went to great lengths to ensure that Ryan had plenty of weapons around him for Year 2, trading for future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and ending Roddy White's holdout by agreeing to a contract that makes him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league. Ryan played well over the first four games, completing two-thirds of his passes for just shy of 1,000 yards, with seven touchdowns and only two picks. But he struggled some in a grind-it-out win over the Chicago Bears, was sacked four times in a loss to Dallas, and completed just 19-of-42 with three interceptions in Monday night's loss to unbeaten New Orleans. His quarterback rating in that defeat (46.6) was the second-lowest of his career. Now, the Falcons (4-3) are trying to snap their first losing streak of the Ryan era when they go up against one of the league's top defensive teams, the Washington Redskins, on Sunday. "We know he's going to bounce back," running back Michael Turner said. "Matt's cool under pressure. He's not being rattled back there or anything like that. As long as we protect him well and the receivers run nice crisp routes and get the timing right, everything will be an improvement." True to his steady demeanor, Ryan showed no signs of panic as he discussed the slump standing in front of his locker at the Falcons' training complex. "You have to be more judiscious with the football, make better decisions," he said. "But you don't want to lose that sense of aggressiveness. You want to take some chances, you want to make some plays. I know I have to play better. We have to play better as a team." Gonzalez said he's not the least bit concerned about Ryan's troubles. As the last game showed, the stat sheet doesn't always tell the entire story. On the first interception, which was returned for a 48-yard touchdown by Jabari Greer, White got knocked off his route and Ryan threw the ball a little quicker than he would have preferred because of a blitz. With the Falcons going for the go-ahead touchdown, Ryan delivered a pass that was tipped by a deeper-than-expected Jonathan Vilma and picked off at the 1-yard line. The third pick was a throwaway: Ryan threw up a Hail Mary on a desperate final play. "He'll be fine," Gonzalez said. "When certain things happen, when interceptions are thrown, I know the viewer looks at it and says, 'OK, that was a bad throw. But it may be the protection or it may be the receiver went too deep on the route. These are things you don't get to see or don't understand because you don't know the route and how we designed it throughout the whole week." While Ryan's demeanor never seems to change, his teammates have noticed a little more fire in his Matty Ice's eyes during practice this week. "We've been talking and walking it through, and he's already saying, 'I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to do that, I'm going to fix this, I'm going to get my footwork fixed so I can get better,"' White said. "That's the type of guy he is. He goes out there and works hard. The next game, he's going to show improvement."