FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Maybe it’s a good thing for Matt Ryan that he’s still waiting to win when the stakes matter the most.
Ryan’s 0-3 playoff record as the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback lends some nuance to a career – to a life, for that matter – that looks too good to be true. He’s talented, smart, pleasant and humble; a Philadelphia prep-school and Boston College product whose idea of splurging after signing the largest rookie contract in NFL history (six years, $72 million) was not a mansion, or a fleet of sports cars.
He bought a bed because, well, why not? It’s more spacious than a couch, and more comfortable than a cot.
Ryan’s first pass as a pro was caught for a 62-yard touchdown. This was in 2008. Each season since has shown incremental improvements and increased responsibilities for somebody who finished 2012 among the league’s top five in every prominent quarterback statistic.
But there’s that 0-3 record in No Tomorrow Games, an imperfection on Ryan’s résumé as glaring as a mustard stain on a pressed white dress shirt. He doesn’t invite the topic of the Falcons’ playoff frustrations, but when reporters bring it up
– early Wednesday afternoon before practice, for instance – he replies without wincing, sneering, rolling his eyes or doing anything else that might draw comparisons to Jay Cutler.
“We’re a different team, a different group than last year,” is Ryan’s stock reply. The answer could be construed as shallow if it weren’t the whole, undeniable truth: New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has installed a diverse, up-tempo attack that resembles nothing the Falcons brought to any of their three playoff defeats since 2008.
Wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White are fast, physically imposing game-breakers, and tight end Tony Gonzalez, at 6-foot-5, remains a threat to dominate single coverage.
“I feel more confident with the guys around me,” Ryan said. “Having been in my second year with J.J. (Jones) now adds to that confidence level. Knowing Roddy White and having played with him for five years and understanding him inside out. … He understands me the same way. I think that helps.”
Ryan took a few weeks off after Atlanta’s offense no-showed last year in a wild-card game against the New York Giants, then showed up alone for offseason weight training.
“When he came in,” Falcons coach Mike Smith recalled a few months ago, “it’s funny how other guys started to trickle in.”
Ryan plays a position that enables him to exude leadership and, by extension, serve as a scapegoat. Win-loss records are attached to quarterbacks, nobody else.
On that score, Ryan’s futility borders on historic: The only other quarterbacks winless in three playoff games were Bert Jones, Steve Grogan and Bobby Hebert.
The notion of the quarterback as clutch-game savior is validated, sort of, by the list of those quarterbacks who won clutch games. Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is 16-6 in the playoffs; resident Hall of Famer Joe Montana was 16-7. Terry Bradshaw (14-5), Troy Aikman (11-4), Roger Staubach (11-6) and Bart Starr (9-1) also were enshrined in Canton, Ohio, for their consistent ability to step up and deliver on those occasions it mattered the most.
But like any statistic, playoff records can be misleading. Take Peyton Manning, who was, is, and always will be remembered as a more accomplished quarterback than his younger brother Eli. Peyton’s playoff record is 9-10. Eli’s playoff record is 8-3.
Former Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer has developed into a TV star – when it comes to a breakdown that’s informed and yet not too complex for the casual fan, the ESPN analyst is the best in the business – but he’d be the first to admit he couldn’t throw a pass with anything close to the strength and accuracy Matt Ryan can.
But Dilfer was 5-1 in the playoffs.
For what it’s worth, and it’s worth only everything, Ryan’s teammates don’t see him as a quarterback who is 0-3 in the last three playoffs. They see him as a quarterback capable of leading the Falcons to a 3-0 record in these playoffs.
“Matt knows it takes time to be successful,” said Falcons running back Michael Turner. “You don’t come in as a rookie and win the Super Bowl. You just don’t.
“Our playoff disappointments, over the last few years, aren’t just on him,” Turner went on. “We’re all in this together.”
If the Seahawks prevail Sunday in the Georgia Dome, Ryan’s playoff record will be 0-4. Only one quarterback in the history of the NFL has played in four postseason games without a victory.
That would be Y.A. Tittle. A famous snapshot of Tittle, kneeling down in a sort of daze, without his helmet, blood streaming down from his bald head, was taken in 1964, the final season of his 17-year career. He knew he’d never win a championship. He knew he’d never win a playoff game of any kind.
Matt Ryan, who since early childhood has embraced ambitions of high achievement and rarely has been disappointed, doesn’t need to be inspired by Y.A. Tittle. Ryan doesn’t need to ponder the prospect of taking a knee as blood streams down from his bald head.
But, Matt, just in case: If your playoff mark falls to 0-4, you’ll be in good company. The last guy who retired 0-4 is in the Hall of Fame.
HOW ‘MATTy Ice’ STACKS UP
A look at how the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback compares with the NFL leaders:
Matt Ryan NFL leader
QB rating …99.1 (Ranked 5th)108.0 (Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay)
Yards …4,719 (Ranked 5th)5,177 (Drew Brees, New Orleans)
Touchdowns …32 (Ranked 5th)43 (Brees, New Orleans)
Comp. Pct. …68.6 (Tied for 1st)68.6 (Peyton Manning, Denver)john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com