Turner has an ankle injury that could sideline him indefinitely, and that's a problem. The star running back is critical to the success of Atlanta's offense and was making all the right moves and gaining all the big yards the last three weeks.
But now he's gone, bowing out in the first half of Sunday's 28-19 loss to Carolina and leaving the offense to Ryan. That might be OK if he were playing as he did a year ago. But he's not. And if he continues to operate as he did against the Panthers, that's a problem for Atlanta, too.
It's not just that he was inaccurate; it's that he kept overthrowing his targets and made a raft of decisions that made you wonder: What in the world did he see there? I'll tell you what: a lot of incomplete and ineffective passes.
But it is his two interceptions that deserve attention, not only because they sabotaged the Falcons but because they exemplify what's going on with Ryan -- and it's not good.
The first led to a Carolina touchdown. The second snuffed out a fourth-quarter Atlanta comeback. Both were egregious, with passes sailing over their intended receivers, and both had Ryan and coach Mike Smith on the defensive afterward when reporters tried probing just what is wrong with last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The consensus: nothing.
But try convincing anyone who witnessed the Falcons' latest loss, their third in four games or saw Ryan put the brakes on a fourth-quarter rally with an errant pass to wide receiver Michael Jenkins. The ball was thrown into double coverage, and it sailed over Jenkins' head -- which happens. But the guy is 6-5, and, yes, he was jumping for a pass he could not touch.
"I don't think it's anything," said Ryan. "We just need to continue to practice hard, prepare the best we can and play better. We had our chances, and we didn't take advantage of them. The best part of playing in the NFL is that it is a 16-week season. It's a long grind. We've got an opportunity. We have seven weeks in front of us, so, hopefully, our best football is in front of us."
Recap: Panthers 28, Falcons 19
Falcons: Turner sprains ankle
Panthers: Left tackle Gross breaks right ankle
Maybe, but not if he doesn't improve in a hurry. It's one thing to say Ryan's play was an aberration, but it's another to look at what's going on lately, and what's going on is a passel of mistakes. In Ryan's last five starts he has 10 interceptions, and in four of those five games he has two or more.
A year ago, he had 11 all season. He never had a game with more than two. By contrast, in three of his last five games there have been two interceptions, and against New Orleans there were three for the first time in his young pro career.
Yeah, OK, it happens. But if it doesn't stop happening, the Falcons' best football, as Ryan put it, is not ahead of them.
"You've got to remember this is Year Two," said Smith. "Playing quarterback in this league is one of the most difficult jobs there is. There are going to be ups, and there are going to be downs. But we all have the confidence in our quarterback."
They should. Ryan has been a terrific addition to the Falcons and one of the league's best and brightest young passers. But he's not one of them right now because right now the Atlanta Falcons' star quarterback is not playing well, their star running back is not playing, period, and their future is in doubt.
|Matt Ryan has 10 interceptions in his last five starts. (US Presswire)|
So it's up to Ryan to do what he did a year ago, only a year ago he had Turner at his side. Now he doesn't.
"I think it's just one of those things," said Jenkins. "Sometimes balls sailed on him [Sunday]. But Matt's a great player and a great competitor. I don't think there's anything technically wrong with him. We've just got to limit the turnovers and execute a lot better."
Correction: Ryan just has to limit the turnovers so the Falcons can play better.
Remember, they're not only 1-4 on the road; they lost to a Carolina team that played the second half -- and will play the rest of the season -- without its best offensive lineman in tackle Jordan Gross and that basically lost star receiver Steve Smith for the second half, too. So the door was opened, but the Falcons couldn't get through. And they couldn't get through because Matt Ryan held them back. That better change, or the Falcons can forget another playoff run.
"I'm young," said Ryan. "I've got a long way to go and a lot of improving to do and a lot of things to learn. And I do think that you learn a lot more in your second season than you do in your first. I feel like I am continuing to get better and continuing to learn, trying to soak up everything I can from Year One, from Year Two. I feel like if I do that and do it the best way I can I will be a better player for it."
That sounds good. But it didn't look so good against Carolina. And New Orleans before that. And Dallas before that.
"Anytime you look at a young quarterback in this league there are going to be growing pains," said Smith. "It's a very complex position to play, and there are going to be ups and downs. The only way to experience playing quarterback is to get out there and play."
Matt Ryan has done that. Now he needs to get out there and win.