Last offseason, I wrote a series of Throwback Thursday articles looking back at some of the most memorable moments in Atlanta Falcons history. That series culminated with an article looking back at the time newly minted general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall pick. Here’s how that specific article concluded:
As you may or may not have noticed, there wasn’t a single one of these articles which was dedicated to any moment in the Matt Ryan era; that was by design. In this upcoming offseason, I hope to write a series of “Matty Ice Moments” articles, which look back on nothing but moments in the Matt Ryan era.
Well, that time has come — welcome to the “Matty Ice Moments” series. This will be a series of articles dedicated to looking back on Matt Ryan-centric moments, in an attempt to help distract us from the dead period a little bit.
And if you don’t like Matt Ryan and think that we’re focusing on him too much this offseason, then that’s just too bad, I guess.
You can find last week’s article in this series, looking back on that horrible divisional round game against Green Bay, here.
2011 Week 2 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Every player, in his career, has a game here or there which just means something more symbolically, even if there isn’t any added emphasis on the standings. The early season clash against the Eagles in 2011 was one of those games for Matt Ryan.
Ryan walked into an incredibly unfair situation in Atlanta. A large contingent of this fanbase immediately resented him because he came in to replace Michael Vick, the dishonored superstar quarterback who electrified the city and suffered a downfall which landed him in federal prison.
Many Falcons fans became fans because of Vick, and many held out hope that the team would wait for him through those prison days. Ryan came into Atlanta as a 22-year-old from Boston College drafted to play the position, and he stepped into a place where the very fanbase was divided, through no fault of his own.
Despite the fantastic start to Ryan’s career — the Rookie of the Year win in 2008, leading the franchise to its first ever back-to-back winning seasons, the division title in 2010 — that resentment may have even grown when Vick’s sentence was served and he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The cheers for Vick were deafening when he made his first ever return to the Georgia Dome in 2009, but he served as a backup QB to Donovan McNabb in that game (he did score two touchdowns) while Ryan was sidelined with a turf toe injury. As a result, this 2011 clash was the first actual meeting between Atlanta’s hero of yesteryear and the current face of the franchise.
Vick took over as Philly’s starting QB in 2010 and had the best statistical season of his career, while Ryan took that next step in his maturation as a QB that year. Both led their teams to division titles, and both were disposed of by the Packers in the playoffs.
This 2011 meeting was one of the most anticipated regular season games in Atlanta Falcons history. Ryan had taken the reins as the face of Atlanta’s franchise, but Vick had cast an imposing shadow on the city, which had yet to subside. Beating him in this head-to-head match would go a long way in removing that shadow.
The Vick jerseys were ubiquitous in the Georgia Dome on that Sunday night. No. 7 was greeted as a hero once again but unlike in 2009, Ryan was there to defend the house he had inherited in 2008 this time around.
Atlanta drew first blood late in the first quarter in the form of a seven-play touchdown-scoring drive following a solid punt return by Eric Weems.
Vick and the Eagles answered immediately with a 13-play drive to tie the game, which was aided by a costly offside penalty by John Abraham on a play where Atlanta had gotten a third down stop. Philly would put together another scoring drive to make it 10-7 following Atlanta’s three-and-out on the subsequent drive.
Ryan and the Falcons sputtered, going three-and-out for a second straight time, and then watching the Eagles effortlessly march down the field to the 4-yard-line.
Falcons fans witnessed the Mike Vick Experienced from an opponent’s viewpoint in this game — the euphoric highs felt when Vick was on his game, and the agonizing mistakes he was prone to making in the middle of it. One of those mistakes came as Philly was in that position to deliver a big body blow before the half — Vick scrambled for an 8-yard loss, fumbled, and watched as the fumble was recovered by Ray Edwards who took it back 64 yards into Eagles territory.
Given new life in the form of that turnover forced by the defense, Ryan capitalized with a quick drive which culminated in a spectacular Tony Gonzalez one-handed touchdown catch. Vick fumbled again as the Eagles looked to set up a field goal right before the half, and Atlanta went into the break with a 14-10 lead.
On Vick’s first play of the second half, he threw a pass which was intercepted by Kelvin Hayden; that set up another Ryan touchdown pass to Gonzalez, extending the lead to 21-10.
With Vick, the bad came in the form of an avalanche of mistakes, but he wasn’t about to concede to those mistakes in his first homecoming as the starter.
He led the Eagles on back to back touchdown scoring drives to take a 24-21 lead, with some assistance from Asante Samuel, who intercepted Ryan and returned that pic to Atlanta’s 22-yard-line following the first score.
Following back-to-back three-and-outs by the Falcons’ suddenly befuddled offense, the Eagles scored another touchdown, but at a significant cost.
Falcons and Eagles fans were witnessing the final part of the Mike Vick Experience — an injury at seemingly the most inopportune time. Backup QB Mike Kafka stepped in and completed the touchdown-scoring drive to make it 31-21 going into the fourth quarter.
What the national television audience witnessed in that fourth quarter, however, was the staple of the Matt Ryan Experience — a clutch comeback when victory looked unlikely.
It started with a lengthy 12-play drive which resulted in a 1-yard touchdown to fullback Ovie Mughelli, and concluded with a seven-play drive which set up a Michael Turner score one possession later.
Kafka and the Eagles had a go at it in their final opportunity, but they sputtered out right before entering the red zone. Ryan went on to complete three of the most satisfying kneel down plays of his career.
Vick finished the game going 19-28 for 242 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He added six carries for 25 yards, and three fumbles, two of which were recovered by Atlanta.
Kafka was excellent in relief, going 7-9 for 72 yards and a passer rating of 100.0.
Ryan went 17-28 for 195 passing yards, a career high four touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Ryan beating Vick in this head to head clash had taken an albatross off of number 2’s neck, and had given this fanbase some closure. One fan put it best with a sign which was shown in this game — “Vick, we miss you but we must protect Ryan’s House.”
This was the house which Matt Ryan had made his own, at the end of the day. The kid from Boston College would go on to become undoubtedly the greatest quarterback in Falcons history. And he’s not even done yet.