Falcons-Cardinals: Rookie Quarterback Has Wings Clipped in Loss

Bryan Hollister@too_old_4stupidAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2009

At times showing immense poise, but ultimately being exposed for the rookie he is, Matt Ryan threw two interceptions and fumbled an exchange, as his Cinderella-story Falcons fell to the Arizona Cardinals, 30-24.

The playoff jitters struck early; on only the Falcons' third possession of the game, Ryan was picked off by Ralph Brown.

Four plays later, Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald for 42 yards and a touchdown and Arizona scored the first points in a home playoff game since 1927.

Ryan recovered well enough to take the Falcons into the locker room with a 17-14 lead, but the football gods had more in store for him in the second half.

Trying to get the anemic running game in gear, Ryan fumbled the exchange, and the ball was picked up and run in for a touchdown by Antrel Rolle for a touchdown that put the Cardinals back on top, and they never trailed again in the game.

Ryan threw his second interception late in the third quarter when he attempted to connect with Roddy White, and early in the fourth quarter he held the ball a bit too long in his own end zone, resulting in a sack and a safety.

Down 30-17, "Matty Ice" finally showed some of the poise that earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, leading a 10-play, 58-yard drive which culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass to Roddel White to narrow the gap to 30-24.

Atlanta had one last chance to get the ball back and try to score—with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had Arizona backed up on third-and-16.

But the Falcons bit on the underneath route, and Warner connected with Stephen Spach for 24 yards, and the game was over.

With no time outs remaining, the Falcons were powerless to stop the clock, and three kneeldowns later, Kurt Warner took a giant step forward on his way to another Super Bowl.

All the blame can't be laid on Ryan—the Atlanta running game which he has come to rely on this season was non-existent, managing only 60 yards on 24 carries.

The rookie did fairly well in his first post season action, managing nearly 200 yards passing and two touchdowns.

But two interceptions and a fumble turned out to be too much to overcome, and he'll have to wait until next year to get another shot.

Now the Cardinals look ahead to Sunday's match between Philadelphia and Minnesota to determine where they travel next week. As the fourth seed, this was their only home game of the playoffs.

With a 3-5 road record in the regular season this year, the Cardinals have their work cut out for them. The Giants and Panthers are 7-1 and 8-0, respectively, at home in the regular season.