If you haven't had the opportunity to see, and hear, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan mic'd up on NFL Network's Sound FX during the victory over the Buccaneers last Saturday, the footage is available on the team's website. It's absolutely worth watching.
Ryan's solid performances and leadership have kind of been lost in the shuffle of a season that can only be classified as a disappointment thus far. Against the Buccaneers, Ryan posted a quarterback rating of 148.4, a number that is both ridiculously good, and the highest of Ryan's career to date. Ryan was named the NFC offensive player of the week for his performance against Tampa Bay, and rightfully so.
Fox Sports South's John Manasso writes that Ryan is on pace for 35 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards this season. If Ryan continues on this trajectory, 2013 will be the best season of his career to date. Manasso points out that, despite some struggles along the offensive line, and injuries to key players, Ryan's completion percentage so far in 2013, 70.1%, is even better than his 2012 percentage of 68.6%, which was the best in the NFL last season.
In watching, and hearing, Ryan on the field against the Buccaneers on Sunday, there are a few things that are immediately obvious. For starters, Matt Ryan is as impressed as everyone else by the fact that Jacquizz Rodgers has gigantic calf muscles.
In response to the statement that there were some unfamiliar faces out on the field, Ryan was undaunted. "They've been pretty familiar at practice for the last six to eight weeks now," Ryan says. It's a reminder that these injuries aren't fresh. Surely, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone have been getting pretty regular reps with Ryan since Roddy White's injuries began in preseason, and Julio Jones spent some time on the injury report prior to the season-ending foot injury.
It's clear from these clips that Ryan is fond of the phrases, "do your job," "cut it loose," "first downs," and "finish, finish, finish."
Going into Sunday's game, Ryan revealed to teammate Tony Gonzalez, the team's resident "old man," that Ryan was feeling old for the first time in his career. Considering the way that Ryan played, perhaps feeling old is a good thing.
Ryan absolutely called the Willy Mo sack/fumble on Mike Glennon. He referred to the sack/fumble as the "best play in football," and surely he means that it's the best play in football when caused by the Falcons' defense.
The offensive line may still have deficiencies, but Ryan's reads and release are so quick, and he's extremely decisive in the clips in this segment. That certainly contributed to his stellar day against the Buccaneers.
Roddy White was neither the focus of this segment, nor a factor on the field, as he was held out with a hamstring injury as well as a lingering high ankle sprain, but he was a factor on the sideline. He was clearly invested in the game and the performances of his teammates, supporting the team and celebrating with them on the sideline. That kind of veteran leadership is so necessary to the Falcons right now.
Ryan took a late hit in one of the clips, and jumped up yelling at the ref for a call--but, unlike some quarterbacks, Ryan was yelling for a defensive pass interference call, as opposed to a roughing the passer call.
The one aspect of Ryan's Sound FX footage that stands out the most is seeing that Ryan is reacting to having his key wide receivers out by coaching up the young guys in the huddle. He gives some positive reinforcement to Darius Johnson, and explains to Patrick DiMarco and Jacquizz Rodgers how they needed to bounce out a little farther on a particular play.
Even Harry Douglas, a veteran who had the best game of his career on Sunday, is advised by Ryan to be patient, and Ryan won't let Douglas get ahead of himself, reminding him, "We've still gotta win."
It's come out this week that the 37-yard touchdown pass to Harry Douglas was an audible called by Ryan at the line of scrimmage. Afterward, Ryan is exuberant on the sideline. "I've been waiting a long time for that play!" he tells backup quarterback Dominique Davis. The audible, and the flawless execution, are testaments to how much Ryan has matured as a quarterback, in his ability to read and anticipate defenses.
There have been times this season that the team has looked flat. There hasn't appeared to be much energy on the field, or on the sideline. That was not the case with Matt Ryan last Sunday. He was a vocal leader on the sideline, and in the huddle.
In John Manasso's article about Ryan's exceptional season thus far, he spoke with left guard Justin Blalock about Ryan's development as a quarterback, and the team's perspective on the guy under center. Blalock said, "I know if it's Sunday, I turn around, and [Ryan's] back there, we've got a chance."
It's high praise, and Ryan has earned it.