Down the stretch of his MVP campaign last season, when the Falcons seized preeminence in the NFC, Matt Ryan was at his frosty best.
Over the last three games of 2016, the Falcons quarterback averaged 298 yards passing, throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Falcons averaged 37 points per game over that period, a point total they’ve yet to reach in any game this season.
Needless to say, that’s the Matt Ryan who is required to reappear here – as the ghost of recent Christmas past – with three regular-season games remaining this season. Or at least as close a facsimile as possible.
Ultimately, this follow-up to a Super Bowl season will go only as far as Ryan takes it. There will be other factors, of course. The new offensive coordinator. An offensive line – here employing the language of faint praise – that has been serviceable. The host of complementary receivers who have gone very quiet. But Ryan owns this last act of 2017. As it should be.
Ryan is coming off a Thursday night game against New Orleans in which he, relatively, stunk. The Falcons still won, but that won’t continue should he relatively stink again.
Yes, the quarterback absorbs an unequal share of the burden. There are times, like this, when that is exactly proportional to the demands of the moment.
And, no, most could not rationally expect Ryan to play precisely to the level of 2016, which is likely to stand forever as his high tide. But he has to approximate it better than this. (He is still on pace to throw for better than 4,000 yards this season, but with 17 fewer touchdowns and nearly twice the seven interceptions he threw in ’16.)
His three interceptions a week ago Thursday – two of them particularly egregious – accounted for the lowest quarterback rating in a game since October 2015. He was just slightly better the week before against Minnesota.
As ever, Ryan was calm, composed, cool to the touch when asked about his reaction to a sub-standard outing.
“In the game this past Thursday, I made a couple mistakes but those things happen from time to time,” he said Thursday, when asked about bouncing back from his performance against the Saints. “I feel like my process is really good. I feel like I do everything I need to do every week to give me the best chance to play the best I can.”
So, no kicking of trash cans or punching of walls, then?
“I usually do OK (emotionally),” he said with a slight chuckle. “I’ve played long enough (to know) that those nights happen. We won the game, which was what was ultimately the most important.
“It doesn’t affect my confidence or anything like that. I have a great belief in myself and my routine and that we’re capable of going out and playing well because that’s what we’ve done.
“You can’t beat yourself up. It’s hard enough in this league to go out there. You know every week you’re a week away from being humbled. I learned that early on. I have great belief in myself. I know it’s a tough league, and there are going to be weeks like that from time to time.”
Such weeks just can’t stack one upon another, especially through a gauntlet of conference opponents, beginning Monday night at Tampa Bay.
There are expectations to be met. No pressure or anything like that, Matty Ice, but you’re the bridge to get there.