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 Ryan’s incredibly anticipated clash against Mike Vick in 2011, here.
8-0 start in 2012
Everyone had a sour taste in their mouths following Atlanta’s brutal 2011 playoff implosion against the New York Giants (I didn’t even want to look back on that in this series of moments). Going into 2012, higher expectations were set for the Falcons and Matt Ryan, who was going into his fifth season.
The offensive line was dominant, and Ryan had the scariest triumvirate of pass catchers in the league at his disposal — Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and a young Julio Jones, who was going into his sophomore campaign following a successful rookie season. Nobody knew where 2012 would take us, but it needed to be farther than where the team had been thus far in the Matt Ryan era.
The first half of the 2012 season was some of the most fun I’ve ever personally had as a fan of this football team. Everything clicked, and the result was a run of games which is still fondly remembered to this day.
It started off with Tony Gonzalez’s homecoming game against the Kansas City Chiefs — a dominating performance from the offense which set the tone for the rest of the season. Behind Ryan’s four-touchdown performance, the Birds hung 40 in KC but lost star cornerback Brent Grimes to a season-ending Achilles injury in the process.
The home opener was played on Sunday Night Football against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Atlanta’s defense intercepted Manning three times in the first quarter, making a mockery of one of the most dominant offenses in football. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan deployed an amoeba defense which perplexed one of the most intelligent QBs in NFL history. Atlanta held on against a valiant Bronco comeback attempt to preserve a 27-21 victory, and to hand Denver one of just three losses it would suffer all season.
The defense shut down Phillip Rivers and the Chargers, in San Diego, the next week, as Atlanta ran away to a comfortable 27-3 victory. Rivers threw for 173 passing yards and two interceptions, and couldn’t find the end zone at all. Ryan found Jacquizz Rodgers, Tony Gonzalez, and Julio Jones in the end zone, all in the first half.
The Week 4 comeback win against the Carolina Panthers and their sophomore phenom QB Cam Newton was the closest Atlanta came to defeat in the first half of the season. Down 28-27 with one minute remaining, the Falcons started out at their own 1-yard-line. With the odds stacked against him, Ryan connected with Roddy White on a 59-yard hail marry pass on the first play of the drive, getting the Birds to Carolina’s 40. Three plays and a penalty later, and Matt Bryant was kicking a game-winning 40-yard Field Goal to seal an improbable victory.
Ryan attempted a season-high 52 passes in Atlanta’s next victory in Washington, against the Redskins. That resulted in 345 passing yards and a tense comeback victory, which featured an explosive fourth quarter where Atlanta scored 17 points.
Ryan put up a stinker of a performance the next week against Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders, throwing one touchdown against three interceptions in another very tense matchup. CB Asante Samuel saved the day, however, with a 79-yard pic 6 with 2:40 remaining in the game. Despite the poor afternoon overall, however, Ryan still managed to lead a game-winning final drive to set Bryant up for a monstrous 55-yard game-winning Field Goal.
Following a bye week, Atlanta managed to put up 30 points and win a comfortable game in Philadelphia (that doesn’t happen often), in a Matt Ryan vs. Michael Vick rematch from 2011. Ryan once again outplayed Vick to the tune of 262 yards, a 3/0 TD/INT ratio and a passer rating of 137.4 (Vick threw for 191 yards, rushed for 42 yards, threw one touchdown pass, and registered a passer rating of 84.3).
Atlanta improved to 8-0 after winning a defensive battle against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Ryan didn’t throw for a single touchdown or interception, but he did just enough to preserve a 19-13 win in a game which was tied at 6-6 going into the fourth quarter.
The football world had no choice but to take notice of Ryan and the Falcons, who were the only remaining undefeated team left in the NFL at the halfway point.
Atlanta’s run would finally come to an end in Week 10 in New Orleans. They suffered their first taste of defeat against a struggling but prideful Saints team, which was operating without head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended because of a piece of scandalous cheating the team partook in to help them win the Super Bowl in 2009.
Ryan threw for 2360 passing yards and a TD/INT ratio of 17/6 in the first half of the season, thrusting himself into an MVP conversation which he wouldn’t exit from until a disastrous five-interception performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11. He had instantly clicked with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who shifted the focus from the run game to the passing attack within Atlanta’s offense.
Ryan would have the best season of his pro career in 2012 up to that point, and he would have a chance to exorcise his playoff demons come January of that season. But we’ll get to that soon enough.