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NFL Conference Championship Grades: Don't blame Matt Ryan

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Following the Falcons' 28-24 loss to the 49ers on Sunday, you will hear lots of talk about how Atlanta, in failing to close against San Francisco, choked once again. The Falcons did, in fact, come up short. But pinning their loss on Matt Ryan -- and renewing the old "he's a playoff choker" argument as a result -- is folly.

Ryan wasn't perfect, of course. He fumbled a snap that the 49ers recovered, he threw an interception on a play where Roddy White slipped/Chris Culliver jumped the route, and he might've missed Tony Gonzalez on the final fourth-down attempt for the Falcons. The Falcons didn't score in the second half, and that's awkward, but Ryan also balled the hell out Sunday.

The Falcons quarterback finished 30 of 42 for 396 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. He came out of the gates smoking and got Atlanta up 17-0 in the early part of the second quarter.

Ryan continued to make big throws throughout the game and had the Falcons poised to win. They didn't, and he takes some of the blame with two turnovers. That's how it goes as a quarterback.

But the problem with placing blame on NFL quarterbacks is the narrative produced: Ryan was a choking postseason dog before he played the Seahawks in the divisional round last week, with his legacy on the line. He got up on Seattle early, had praise heaped on him, then somehow reverted to said choking dog in the second half before closing things out late and finally shrugging the playoff monkey off his back.

Ryan was flirting with emerging as an "elite" (whatever that means) quarterback for the first half of the NFC Championship Game. Now everyone suddenly wants to revert back to the original narrative, one in which Ryan can't win on the big stage?

Come on. It's a knee-jerk, rollercoaster way to approach an analysis of a player that requires a much bigger picture. We should be better than that, but there are a lot of people who won't be -- and who will find a way to pin this game on Ryan's inability to win playoff games.

The reality is Ryan's a talented quarterback who came close to beating some good playoff teams and came up short a few times. He's not on the precipice of retiring: He'll turn 28 after this season and still has many good years in front of him. Peyton Manning hadn't won a Super Bowl title at Ryan's age either.

If you're pointing to Ryan's lack of a playoff resume, you'll always have an argument -- for now -- because of his win-loss record. But failing to see his success against the 49ers, and how close he came to flipping that narrative, is just obstinate.

TeamGradeAnalysis
49ers 28, Falcons 24
B+Slow start for the 49ers and their defense should be a concern: The pass rush wasn't there, and they got beat deep several times by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis put on a show from the second quarter on, though. It's fascinating to see how the 49ers have morphed from a strictly defensive team to an explosive offense in the last few months.
BIncredibly strong start for the Falcons: Atlanta looked like it might roll the 49ers. But the offense stalled out in the second half and the defense couldn't contain Frank Gore (as a result of trying to contain Colin Kaepernick) or Vernon Davis. They still need to improve their pass rush, as Sunday proved.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Ravens 28, Patriots 13
A-Baltimore started slow, but they ended up blanking the Patriots mighty offense in the second half. Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady in Tom Brady's house, the Ravens generated key turnovers when they needed to and Anquan Boldin was an absolute beast during the second half, making a pair of touchdown catches.
C-Things went downhill quickly when Aqib Talib left the game and the Patriots defense suffered mightily late. Their offense didn't put a single point up on the scoreboard in the second half. They didn't catch any breaks, but they also made some critical mistakes.

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