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Matt Ryan Bolsters MVP Case in Rout of Bucs

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In a season where parity seems to be as prevalent as ever across the league, few players have established themselves as legitimate MVP candidates at the midseason mark. But on Thursday night, one of those few put his entire arsenal on display for a national TV audience.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan continued to present himself as perhaps the lead candidate for the most valuable player in the league with another outstanding performance. Ryan completed 25-of-34 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns against a pass defense that went into the game ranked Top 10 in the league, to lead the Falcons to a 43-28 win over the Buccaneers in Tampa on Thursday.

Through nine games, Ryan has been a complete stud, trending toward career high passing numbers almost across the board while leading the league in touchdown passes, yards, completions, and yards per completion. As he is known to do, Ryan deflected credit to his supporting cast after the game.

“It’s tough to put a finger on it,” Ryan told NFL Network when asked about his level of success this season. “I think it’s because of the guys around me. We have a deep offense. When you’re deep, as a quarterback with a lot of options, it makes your job a lot easier.”

The guys around Ryan, particularly wide receiver Julio Jones, who is inarguably the best player on the team, certainly have something to do with the success of the Falcons, and of Ryan individually. But Jones was also there last season, putting up video game numbers as part of a breakout season, but the Falcons still scuffled to an 8-8 mark. The talent hasn’t changed much either, although Mohamed Sanu was a solid addition in place of the aging Roddy White.

The difference this year is that Ryan is playing that much better, having more success getting the ball to complementary players and most importantly not turning the ball over and finishing drives. Last season, Ryan threw a total of 21 touchdown passes against 16 interceptions, an alarming rate. This year, in just over half a season, Ryan has already eclipsed his 2015 touchdown pass mark with 23 and has thrown just four interceptions, which has him trending toward a single-digit interception season for the first time in six years.

“[He’s] just going to the right places with the ball,” Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told reporters earlier this week. “He’s been attacking coverages; not really forcing it. He’s been finding the weakness in the coverage and going to that person — whoever it is, whether it’s a back, a receiver, or tight end. He’s done a good job of executing the offense and getting the ball in the right spot.”

It’s been a stark turnaround for the 31-year-old Ryan who had appeared to be regressing as a passer over the last few years, particularly last season, his first in Shanahan’s offense after the departure of Dirk Koetter, who watched Ryan carve up his team from the other sideline on Thursday. The expectation was that Ryan might be better this season, his second under Shanahan. But then the veteran quarterback looked completely lost in the preseason, forcing many to question is his career had peaked and he was already on the downturn.

But the light came on when the games started to count and the ninth-year pro has been phenomenal all season long, leading the Falcons to a 6-3 mark that tops the AFC South by two full games. Even in Atlanta’s losses, including a Week 1 defeat at the hands of the same Buccaneers team he ripped apart on Sunday, Ryan has been excellent. Just two of his four picks have come in losses, back-to-back defeats to Seattle and San Diego, and since then he’s boosted his play up another level, completing better than 75 percent of his passes in two games over the span of five days to beat the Packers and Bucs.

“I’m a Matt Ryan fan for 14 out of 16 weeks of the season. I think very highly of Matt not only as a player, but as a person,” Koetter said before the game. “He’s definitely having a great year. His numbers and his play speaks (volumes). Our job is to figure out how to slow him down.”

The Bucs did that to a certain degree early, but after fumbling the ball away on a sack and watching Tampa Bay take advantage to go down and take the lead, Ryan started to heat up, leading a scoring drive in response that staked Atlanta to a 20-14 halftime lead. Then in the second half, Ryan went off.

The first two drives of the half for the Falcons were an 11-play, 86-yard trip and a 10-play, 82-yard trip that both ended in Ryan touchdown passes, sandwiched around a quick Tampa Bay three-and-out. Over those two drives, Ryan completed 11-of-12 passes for 146 yards. Five of those completions went to Jones, including three straight at one point on the first of those two drives. Afterward, Falcons coach Dan Quinn commented on Ryan’s effectiveness.

“He’s got a real locked in look about him. We knew we had some [options] and he had the correct reads and the correct progressions,” the second-year Atlanta coach said. “He’s really been on point, Matt has. He knows where to go with the ball, the decision to make it, and early on we didn’t have as many catches with [Julio] and then he took fire again in the third quarter as well.”

Jones said after the game that Tampa Bay was double teaming him early in the game, but came out in the second half and was playing him one-on-one, which Ryan noticed immediately.

“They singled me up and we were able to make a few plays coming out of halftime,” Jones said. “We made some adjustments at halftime and obviously they did, they was like ‘ok, he was quiet in the first half, so let’s single him up’ and we came out and took advantage of it in the second half.”

Atlanta cruised from there to their second big win in five games as Ryan continued to solidify himself as on of the league’s best players at the halfway mark. It doesn’t get easier for Ryan going forward, as he can now look ahead to facing two of the league’s Top 5 pass defenses in the next two weeks.

But the long week before next Sunday’s game against Philadelphia and then a bye week before facing the Arizona Cardinals should help Ryan prepare for both and based on this year’s results so far, that doesn’t bode well for either of those defenses.

 


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys