Matt Ryan's newfound confidence fueling Falcons' start
There is a declaration of a quarterback's skill that is typically uttered around Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and...
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — There is a declaration of a quarterback's skill that is typically uttered around Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. It is being heard now around the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan, who seems on the verge of jumping onto the same shelf as those Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
"He can throw guys open," Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said recently about Ryan, a fifth-year quarterback. Dave Archer, the Falcons' radio analyst and former NFL quarterback, said it, too, as did right tackle Tyson Clabo.
Throwing a guy open means purposely underthrowing balls and throwing balls up the seam or down the sideline where a receiver can snatch it from a defender. The receiver is not open until the ball is in flight and he changes course or reacts first and grabs the pass.
"He's got a lot more trust in us, just being able to throw the ball out there and believe that we are going to be able to make plays," White said. "He no longer will hold the ball and say, 'You know what, that might not be a good throw.' He's doing what Drew Brees has been doing with the Saints."
Ryan, 27, has completed 68 percent of his passes for the 5-0 Falcons, who host Oakland on Sunday. Atlanta, averaging 281 yards passing a game, is no longer content with a 12-play, nine-minute drive capped by a field goal, which had become a habit in recent seasons.
"The play calling is so much different than last year," White said. "Matt believes in our skill players, too. He feels no matter what the case is, this is the play call for whatever coverage they play; you just throw the ball to this guy."
Ryan will not say the play calling is different, perhaps because it might sound as if he were slighting former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, now Jacksonville's head coach.
"I think we've made them before," Ryan said of the anticipatory throws. "But I think probably we've hit more of them, and they are more condensed together than years past."
Ryan set a franchise record last year for most passing yards (4,177) and had a career completion rate of 60.9 percent entering this season. Yet he was always regarded as a cut below the game's best, partly because Atlanta is 0-3 in playoff games with Ryan as the starting quarterback and partly because he was deemed too cautious.
"This year, for me, there is a freedom for him to throw guys open like we have not seen before," Archer said. "Back-shoulder throws, purposeful underthrows. It was so pounded in his head 'Take care of the ball, take care of the ball' that he wasn't willing to squeeze the trigger on some things even though his numbers say he was prolific."
Ryan's poise has also impressed. He has orchestrated 18 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including two this season; his total since 2008 is the highest in the NFL.
Ryan still has to erase the stigma of the postseason (70 quarterback rating in the postseason, compared with 90 for the regular season), but he has climbed to a status in which postseason success might just be a matter of getting there and showing off his new nerve.
• The NFL suspended Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib four games without pay for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The fifth-year pro said in a statement released by the team that he took an Adderall pill without a prescription "around the beginning of training camp." He will not appeal the ban, which begins Sunday.
It's the second suspension of Talib's career. The 26-year-old was suspended without pay for the 2010 regular-season opener and also fined one additional game check after an altercation with a St. Petersburg cab driver during training camp in 2009.
• Four-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis and starting running back Donald Brown did not make the trip when the Indianapolis Colts traveled to New York on Saturday for their game against the Jets.
Linebacker Jerry Hughes is expected to replace Mathis in the starting lineup, while rookie Vick Ballard is slated to make his first NFL start in place of Brown.