It can't be easy to be the face of a franchise that, for the second consecutive season, is not living up to expectations, yet Matt Ryan handles it with grace.
In light of speculation that his head coach may not last the season, columnists dramatically placing all of the blame squarely on Ryan's shoulders, and talking heads everywhere discussing a perceived lack of leadership in Atlanta's locker room, Ryan remains poised and focused. He spoke to the media on Wednesday about the bye week being a good time for the team to rest up, regroup, and refocus for the next eight-game stretch.
"Obviously the bye week is a great time to take a look at areas that we need to improve in the second half," Ryan said. "It's no surprise-we've got to play better in the fourth quarter than what we have up until this point this season. But I think everybody's kind of had a chance to get away from it, to disconnect a little bit and hopefully recharge the batteries." Of course, the team had a few guys struggling with lingering injuries, and the bye week came at a good time for that as well.
Statistically, Ryan has performed well this season despite inconsistent pass protection and receivers who are struggling with dropping passes. Ryan expects the physical mistakes to happen occasionally, but the mental mistakes that have plagued the team are far more frustrating. "The thing I try to constantly harp on is that we know our plan and we don't make mental mistakes, and I think that's the thing that's probably a little more frustrating than the physical ones," Ryan said. He hasn't lost faith in his teammates, though, saying, "You've got to keep going out there, trusting guys to make plays, and I'm confident our guys will."
In terms of his own performance, Ryan's not interested in his own statistics if they don't result in team wins. "From my standpoint, it's - we haven't won enough games," Ryan said, "and ultimately, that's what it boils down to. You've got to play winning football week in and week out, and I haven't done a good enough job of that."
Ryan does not agree with national media types who insist that the breakdown in Atlanta must be the result of a lack of leadership in the locker room. "Yeah, I think we do - I think we've got good leadership. Obviously when things aren't going your way and you're not winning games, there's going to be criticism," Ryan said, explaining that the proof is in the way the team is sticking together on and off the field.
"In tough times, when you don't have the finger-pointing, you don't have guys calling each other out and kind of turmoil within the locker room, I think that showcases what kind of leadership we have," Ryan said. And Ryan insisted that it is not just player leadership, either, saying, "I like the guys that we have - coaching staff and players included."
Ryan drew leadership inspiration from an interesting source over the bye week - the Navy SEALs. He was watching something on television about a SEALs training exercise that involved a steep climb, and one of the trainees began to panic. "The instructor kind of climbed his way over, and they were a couple hundred feet up and had a couple hundred feet to go. But the guy said, "Worry about the three feet around you, and don't focus on anything else." And I think that's kind of apropos to where we're at," Ryan said. "You can't worry about the 200 feet we've got to go, you can't worry about the 200 feet that we've already gone. We've got to focus on the immediate three feet around us and control what we can control. And if we do kind of have that zoom focus, that laser focus that they were talking about, I think that could really help us."