Falcons not overly concerned by QB Matt Ryan's recent slump - Sports Illustrated

Falcons not overly concerned by QB Matt Ryan's recent slump

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Matt Ryan has made some plays he'd like to have back. He's done plenty of good things, as well.

Not much different, he figures, than other seasons.

Yet, with the Falcons mired in a three-game losing streak, the 30-year-old quarterback finds himself in the crosshairs of some of the most intense scrutiny of his career.

All around Atlanta, there's a familiar question:

What's wrong with Matty Ice?

''I understand and recognize that sometimes it's not what you do, but what you don't do,'' Ryan said Wednesday, looking ahead to a game against the Minnesota Vikings.

''I know I'm capable of going out there and making those plays and making some game-winning plays. I've done it a number of times.''

In many ways, Ryan's numbers are similar to other years, but some high-profile mistakes have turned up the heat - especially with the Falcons losing four of their past five after a 5-0 start.

Most notably, he threw a horrible pass from his own end zone in last Sunday's loss to the Colts, resulting in an interception that linebacker D'Qwell Jackson returned 6 yards for a tying touchdown.

There has even been speculation about Ryan's health, with a local newspaper blogging a close-up photo showing a brace on Ryan's left knee under his uniform.

The quarterback made it clear that he's fine.

''I'm 100 percent healthy,'' Ryan said, chuckling a bit. ''I think I've said this five or six different times now, and hopefully this will be the last time I have to talk about it: I've worn a brace on my left knee since I was a senior in college. Anybody who looks at a picture from 2008 (his rookie season with the Falcons) will see the same thing.''

Ryan is averaging a career-high 298.2 yards passing per game, while his completion rate (65.5) and passer rating (89.6) are right in the ballpark for what he's done throughout his career. His touchdown passes (15) are a bit down from last season, while his interceptions (10) are slightly up. He has fumbled six times, losing a career-high three, but has managed to hold on to the ball the past two games.

All in all, nothing to get overly alarmed about.

But when Ryan makes a mistake, it seems to be especially costly. Early on against the Colts, he overthrew a pass that was picked off in the end zone, denying the Falcons a prime scoring chance after an Indianapolis turnover. It was another example of Ryan missing on a throw he usually made in the past, and not the first time that's happened during Atlanta's slide.

Star receiver Julio Jones said the criticism of Ryan is just part of being an NFL quarterback.

''People are going to say what they want to say,'' Jones said. ''If Matt goes out there and throws five touchdowns this game, nobody's going to say anything about Matt Ryan. They're going to kind of sweep it under the rug. It's football. It comes with it. You're going to have your ups, you're going to have your downs.''

Ryan is not oblivious to the criticism, but insists that it won't affect his performance. The Falcons are still in control of their fate, clinging to a one-game lead over Tampa Bay and Seattle in the race for an NFC wild card.

''You hear things,'' Ryan said. ''I understand what goes along with playing this position in this league. When it's good, you get a lot of the credit. When it's not good, you catch a lot of the blame. That's part of the deal. For me, like everyone else, I want to get back to winning games. When you do that, that's all that matters.''

It's not as if the Falcons have a lot of options beyond Ryan. The backup is Sean Renfree, a former seventh-round pick who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL.

Coach Dan Quinn said the team's confidence in Ryan is ''as high as it could be.''

''We know what he brings to us,'' Quinn said. ''He's a huge stakeholder in what we do. So there's no backing off one bit with him.''

Notes: RB Devonta Freeman (concussion) and WR Leonard Hankerson (hamstring) sat out practice Wednesday. Quinn said Freeman is in the early stages of the concussion protocol and it's too soon to know if he'll be able to play against the Vikings.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .


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