Matt Ryan has done just about everything an NFL quarterback can be expected to do, with one notable — actually, one gigantic — exception.
His regular-season statistics have been among the best of just about any quarterback in any generation, with a 64.9 completion percentage, better than a 2-1 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, and he’s had a career year that could earn him his first Most Valuable Player award.
A shiny, silver trophy with Vince Lombardi’s name on it.
For all of Ryan’s regular-season brilliance, he has been an underachiever in the playoffs, going only 1-4 since coming into the league as the No. 3 overall pick in 2008. That win came in the 2012 divisional round against the Seahawks, who once again will return to the Georgia Dome for Saturday’s NFC divisional-round game.
If quarterbacks ultimately are judged by championships, then Ryan can stake his claim to greatness only with a meaningful playoff run. That means getting to Houston on Feb. 5 for a chance to give the Falcons their first Super Bowl trophy.
“The biggest thing is, when you’re playing in the playoffs, it’s not that different,” Ryan told reporters. “You still have got to go do the right things. You’ve got to play well. You’ve got to convert third downs. You’ve got to score when you’re in the red zone. That stuff doesn’t change.”
The bottom line: “Don’t make it any less than it is, and don’t make it any more than it is. It’s about going out there and playing well.”
But Ryan’s postseason production has been disturbingly ineffective — 1-2 at home with seven touchdown passes and five interceptions, and 0-2 on the road, with two TDs and two picks. One of those losses was to the Giants in the 2011 playoffs, 24-2 in the wild-card round. The Giants won the Super Bowl that year, as Eli Manning captured his second Super Bowl MVP award.
Manning’s regular-season numbers aren’t nearly as efficient as Ryan’s, but as it stands right now, there is a better chance that the Giants’ quarterback will wind up in the Hall of Fame. Improved playoff production by Ryan can change all that, starting Saturday against the Seahawks, who come off a resounding 26-6 home win over the Lions in the wild-card round.
Ryan will make it his business not to think about his legacy, only what he has to do to solve the Seahawks’ aggressive defense.
“One thing I have learned throughout my career is that you spend time worrying about that (status) when you’re not spending time worrying about the things that are going to make a difference on (game day),” he said. “I focus on getting myself prepared mentally and physically and making sure I’m on top of the (game) plan.”
For Ryan, it’s business as usual. Or at least as businesslike as he can make it.
“What you have to anticipate and what you have to deal with is more noise, just maybe more attention than you get throughout the year,” he said. “You’ve just got to go about your business the same way we’ve gone about it all year and prepare really well and make sure that we’re doing the same things to put ourselves in good positions all year.”
But you don’t get this kind of chance very often, and Ryan needs to make the most of it. He’s coming off a career year with 38 touchdown passes, only seven interceptions and an NFL-best 117.1 rating. But if he doesn’t get on a serious playoff run, the unflattering and unavoidable narrative will continue.
It’s time for this big player to start playing big when it counts most.
Matt Ryan hasn’t played up to his regular-season standards in the postseason. His playoff numbers:
COMP. % 66.3