Late in the fourth quarter Sunday and behind the Carolina Panthers by a point, Matt Ryan took control of his offense from Atlanta’s own 1-yard line and needed to orchestrate a long drive to have a shot at winning the Falcons' fourth game of the season and avoiding their first loss.
He had 59 seconds to make magic happen. He only needed 49.
Ryan’s first play was a 59-yard bomb to Roddy White that looked more like a surgical strike than a calculated risk. Two passes and a Carolina penalty later, Ryan handed the final drive over to Matt Bryant who won the game with a 40-yard field goal.
Here’s an amazing stat for you that you may or may not have known:
In his 66 games as a professional quarterback, Ryan has pulled off 17 fourth-quarter or overtime come-from-behind victories.
Here’s another game-winning drive stat that even I wasn’t aware of. This one from Ed Werder of ESPN via Twitter.
No quarterback in the NFL, in the last 20 years, has ever started a game-winning drive inside his own 5-yard line with under a minute and no timeouts and pulled off the win.
Putting a game-winning drive together 17 times in a short four-year-and-a-few-games-old career is pretty amazing. To be the only quarterback in 20 years to put one together with so many obstacles standing in his way, wow. It’s like there’s ice water in Ryan’s veins.
I wish there were some nickname to cast on Ryan to capture his end-of-game heroics…
Matty Ice went 3-for-4 on that final drive for the Falcons and hit three different receivers—White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas—as he drove 72 yards to put the Falcons in field goal range.
Let’s examine that drive:
Play No. 1 (1st-and-10 from the Falcons 1-yard line, 0:59)
Atlanta lines up in its “11 personnel” and sends Harry Douglas in motion from left to right.
Ryan takes a seven-step drop into the back of the end zone and waits in the pocket for someone to get open. White and Julio Jones are both out on routes; Douglas and Gonzalez stayed in to help block.
Ryan said the two-man route was designed where he could throw to either receiver; he just has to scan the field and decide on the better option. His offensive line gave him plenty of time—remember, the Panthers had sacked Ryan seven times prior in this game; this was a gutsy call—and Ryan saw the coverage he wanted.
“The coverage they had was just one-on-one on the safety and I just threw it down there high and far and to the spot that we talk about in practice when we work on that play,” said Ryan after the game. “Roddy [White] went up and made a great catch, he just made a great play.”
White was between safety Haruki Nakamura and cornerback Josh Norman, and all three were looking high for the football. While looking up, both Norman and Nakamura let White slip behind them. Call that both a rookie mistake and a veteran-with-very-little-starting-experience mistake that, unfortunately for Carolina, happened at the same time.
White made the catch at the Carolina 40-yard line with the clock still running. In all the mayhem and explosively-loud crowd, the Falcons had to scramble to get settled and up to the line of scrimmage.
Play No. 2 (1st-and-10 from the Panthers 40-yard line, 0:27)
From the time White was tagged down and the play was whistled dead, 24 seconds rolled off the clock—an eternity for an offense with zero timeouts remaining.
Atlanta split four receivers out, two on each side, and lined running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield.
Instead of spiking the football, Ryan lets his receivers run quick routes to see if anything materialized. No one was open, so Ryan quickly threw it over the head of Jones and out of bounds.
Play No. 3 (2nd-and-10 from the Panthers 40-yard line, 0:23)
After huddling up, Atlanta came out in the same formation as the play before.
Greg Hardy collapsed the Falcons pocket with a great spin move, forcing Ryan to throw quicker than expected.
Jones may have looked open with Hardy in Ryan’s face, but Captain Munnerlyn had him covered well.
The ball sailed by Jones and Munnerlyn, but Jones fell to the ground, claiming he was hit early. The officials agreed, and a flag flew in.
The pass-interference call moved Atlanta up five yards.
Play No. 4 (1st-and-10 from the Panthers 35-yard line, 0:19)
On first down, Atlanta lined up in “11 personnel” and kept Douglas back to block. Gonzalez chipped Hardy and released from the line to run a short out. Rodgers squirted through the line as Ryan’s safety valve. Jones and White both took their receivers out of involvement of the play.
Gonzalez caught the quick pass and got out of bounds to stop the clock.
Ryan called the catch by Gonzalez (spoiler alert!!) and the next catch by Douglas “icing on the cake.”
“That was big for us, it really was,” said Ryan. “I thought Tony and Harry did a great job understanding where they were and what they needed to do to get out of bounds.”
Play No. 5 (2nd-and-3 from the Panthers 28-yard line, 0:14)
Atlanta lined up again with four receivers, splitting two to each side. This was the third time the Falcons have used this formation during the final drive.
Douglas ran the quick out route this time, an almost identical route to Gonzalez.
Ryan got the throw elevated a bit, but Douglas caught the pass, and more importantly, got both feet in bounds for a first down and a 6-yard gain.
Every play in the Falcons' final drive was ran towards the rookie corner, Norman.
Play No. 6 (1st-and-10 from the Panthers 22-yard line, 0:10)
Matt Bryant split the uprights with a 40-yard, game-winning field goal, even after being iced by the Panthers.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.