|Ryan's playoff failures have earned him the snarky nickname 'Mr. Regular Season.' (US Presswire)|
Regular-season king. Can't cut it in the playoffs. He's oh-for-three as a playoff quarterback.
They said those things once about Peyton Manning.
They're saying them now about Matt Ryan.
Manning proved his skeptics wrong in a big way.
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Ryan will, as well.
Manning went on to win a Super Bowl and four MVPs, but as Ryan readies for his fifth season as the starting quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, you would be hard-pressed to find many who would dare mention him in the same sentence with Manning.
Postseason failure is to his regular-season canvas like a big handful of mud thrown at a fancy painting.
It takes away the pretty.
In his four seasons with the Falcons, Ryan has amassed a 43-19 record, led the Falcons to three playoff berths and thrown 95 touchdown passes against 46 interceptions. But he's 0-3 in the playoffs, and in those games he has three touchdown passes, four interceptions and didn't throw for 200 yards in any of those losses.
That has earned him the wise-ass nickname of "Mr. Regular Season."
"I don't think about it too much," Ryan said this week when I asked him about the playoff failures. "My focus is to try to become a better player, doing the things I need to do. It's not about winning playoff games. It's about winning championships."
When a quarterback doesn't get it done in the playoffs, it's on him. That's the nature of the beast. Forget everything else that goes wrong. And when it does happen, it often becomes something that gets blown out of proportion. Don't you remember what they said about Manning after losing his first three playoff games?
"It's the NFL," Ryan said. "They make too much of everything."
It's hard not to when your offense fails to score a point in a postseason loss, which is the lasting image of the Falcons' 2011 season. The Giants beat them 24-2 and then went on to win the Super Bowl. It was the second successive season the Falcons lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion, losing at home to the Packers after the 2010 season. Losing to the eventual champion doesn't make the pain any less for Ryan.
"There's no consolation," he said. "One team has success, and 31 others have failure. That's the way it is in this league."
Only five quarterbacks threw more touchdown passes than Ryan in 2011 when he threw 29. He also threw for a career-best 4,177 yards, but none of that mattered after his third playoff failure.
So what to do about it?
For starters, the Falcons will have a new offense. Coordinator Mike Mularkey left to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and his replacement is former Jaguars coordinator Dirk Koetter.
The Jaguars were known as a run-heavy team under Koetter, but that was because that's the way then-coach Jack Del Rio wanted it. The Falcons are expected to be more vertical with Ryan throwing to Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside.
I recently spent 18 holes on a golf course in the same cart with Koetter and, aside from our shanking shots here and there to ruin any chance of winning the tournament, we spent a lot of time talking about Ryan.
Koetter raved about him.
The feeling is mutual.
"He's a great teacher," Ryan said. "There are some different concepts from what we did in the past, but we just have to focus on getting better every day. We did some good things last year, but we didn't do anything great."
Ryan has always been a gym rat, the kind of quarterback who lives at the facility and works out like players at other positions. That's a lot like Manning, whom he has been compared to in the past.
To help prepare for this season, Ryan changed the way he trained. He said he dropped four or five percentage points of body fat while adding five-six pounds of weight.
"It's good, solid weight," Ryan said. "I feel strong in practice. It will help with the no-huddle when we go to it."
That no-huddle offense seemed to be when the Falcons shined in 2011. Koetter plans to use more of it, and Ryan likes that idea. It puts more on his plate, calling plays at the line of scrimmage, but it also gives the Falcons a chance to dictate tempo. With Jones and White outside, why not let it fly?
"I love it," Ryan said. "It's something we've had success here with the past four years."
With the new move to open things up some, and Ryan now in his fifth season, with Jones and White and Tony Gonzalez, expect Ryan to bounce back from his latest playoff failure to put up his best numbers yet.
That won't be good enough to get the doubters off his back. Quarterbacks are defined by playoff success, and Ryan knows that as well as anyone. He's just not going to be consumed by it.
But the idea that he isn't any good because of the playoff frustration is just stupidity.
They said the same things about Peyton Manning. How did that turn out?