ATLANTA -- It was one of those moments all the great ones have. Down one, 65 seconds left, 80 yards between him and the goal line, not to mention 11 men on one of the NFL's nastiest defenses trying to take his head off.
Matt Ryan looked at the situation, and then took all of 45 seconds of game clock to send this message to the football world:
I have arrived.
All the Atlanta Falcons' third-year quarterback did was lead his team to a game-winning touchdown to cap a seven-play, 80-yard drive that took all of 45 seconds. The score came on a 33-yard pass to Roddy White with 20 seconds left to give the Falcons a dramatic 26-21 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.
This was Ryan's night from start to finish. The Falcons used a no-huddle offense for the first half and set the tempo with Ryan lighting up the Baltimore defense all night long. He finished the game completing 32 of 50 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
The call him "Matty Ice" for his cool under pressure, but Thursday it might have been because he glistened like a diamond.
Atlanta decided to put the game on Ryan's right arm from the start. With Baltimore being an aggressive defense, and this being a short week to prepare, the Falcons opted for the up-tempo, no-huddle offense.
What that did was make Ryan the field master, handling things at the line of scrimmage.
Dare I say this? He was Manning-esque.
"Yesterday [Wednesday] I talked with [offensive coordinator] Mike Mularkey quite a bit and that was the direction he wanted to go and I did too," Ryan said. "We've been doing a lot of the same things for three years. We feel confident that we knew the system really well and that it would keep some of what Baltimore did vanilla."
|More on Ravens-Falcons|
In the first half, Ryan was 20 of 28 for 160 yards and a touchdown as the Falcons used that no-huddle the entire half. It seemed to wear down the Ravens and kept them from doing some of the things they normally do.
"They got tired," one Falcons offensive player said. "You could see it was working."
The Falcons used it again some in the second half, but settled into a more conventional flow. They held a 20-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Ravens behind Joe Flacco rallied to take a 21-20 lead with 1:05 left on a 9-yard pass from Flacco to Todd Heap. The extra point gave Baltimore the lead.
"We've been in those situations before," Ryan said. "We were confident. We only needed three."
Falcons receiver Michael Jenkins said the offensive players gathered on the sideline and many said the same exact thing:
This is what we do.
The Falcons are a big situational practice team under coach Mike Smith. When they work the two-minute drill in practice, Smith usually calls defensive plays with cards to help challenge the offense. He then gives them a bunch of different situations. Maybe it's 50 yards, down three, and one timeout. Or 70 yards, one timeout, down six. On and on it goes.
Even on the short week, the two-minute drill got work this week, even though it's usually a Friday practice staple.
On the first play of the final drive, Ryan nearly got sacked but had the smarts to throw the ball away. He threw an incomplete pass on second down, but on third down he hit Jenkins for 24 yards and a first down. It was a great catch by Jenkins.
That changed the way Baltimore played. They were in zone early in the drive, but went back to their more aggressive blitzing style from there. A pass-interference penalty put the ball on the 33 to set up the winning score.
|The Ravens' defense turned what would have been a huge win into a devastating loss after TE Todd Heap's TD catch with 70 seconds remaining. The Ravens' vaunted defense lost a little bit of its luster after failing to stop the Falcons with the game on the line.|
|By Jon Gallo|
|Atlanta found a wild way to win another game. With just over a minute left to play it looked like Atlanta had all but choked its chances away. But QB Matt Ryan led the Falcons down the field one last time and found WR Roddy White for a 33-yard game-winning score|
|By Jason Butt|
On the play, Ryan rolled to his left and the action on defense went with him. The pass was designed to go to tight end Tony Gonzalez, but Ravens safety Ed Reed jumped the route. That meant White was in one-on-one coverage with corner Josh Wilson, who he beat with a slight push to get open.
Ryan threw the ball across his body to White, who hauled it in for the score, setting off a wild celebration in the Georgia Dome and putting Atlanta at 7-2 to keep them atop the NFC South.
"He tried to grab me and I just pushed him down," White said.
White, who has emerged as the NFC's best receiver, had 12 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Ryan who was the feature attraction.
The Falcons have been a run-first team in Smith's first two-and-half seasons. And I've always felt to become a real Super contender Ryan would need to be given more. As this season has progressed, he's getting a bigger chunk of the offense.
Loading him up with a no-huddle speaks volumes about the trust the coaches now have in him, especially against a good defense like the Ravens. Ryan has told me in the past he likes the up-tempo, no-huddle offense where he can call plays.
You can tell. He looked comfortable doing it against the Ravens. He looked confident. He looked poised. He looked like a franchise quarterback.
The buildup to this game was the first pitting Ryan and Flacco, who came into the league as first-round picks in 2008. Coming into the game, their stats were eerily similar, almost identical in fact.
Ryan had 50 touchdown passes, Flacco 47. Ryan had 8,305 passing yards to 8,501 for Flacco. Ryan's passer rating was 85.7, while Flacco's was 85.8. Flacco, however, has a big edge in playoff games with five compared to Ryan's two.
Both players were the first rookies in NFL history to start all regular-season games, win 11 games and get to the playoffs.
They will be linked for their entire careers, two quarterbacks bound by the same draft class. But on this night, one was a little better. The first fight goes to Ryan, even though Flacco made a late comeback. The no-huddle worked and the guy running it handled it perfectly.
"I think that's the most we ever used it and we were pretty effective doing it," Ryan said. "To go out there and do it for an entire half and some in the second half as well. It's impressive."
Yep, this was his moment, his chance to show that he's THE franchise passer from the 2008 draft and that he's ready to stake a claim as one of the NFL's best young players. Now that he has, look for the Falcons to put even more on his right arm.
It's the right thing to do. It's how they can win a Super Bowl.
Matt Ryan, step forward. This is your team now. The proof is 80 yards in seven plays in 45 seconds.