The Atlanta Falcons needed yet another fourth-quarter comeback to defeat a sub-.500 team on Sunday. The Arizona Cardinals defense was more than Matt Ryan could handle for three quarters. Trailing by three points midway through the fourth quarter, Ryan put together the Falcons' only complete drive for the go-ahead touchdown.
And while many may focus on the Atlanta Falcons' shortcomings, this game should give hope to the Atlanta Falcons in the postseason.
Nolan Shines Again
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been the Atlanta Falcons' best offseason pickup through 10 games. Not only has he provided effective blueprints for the defense, but he has inspired them as well. Previous Falcons DC Brian VanGorder seemed to have one game plan entering each game. It either worked or it didn't. And in the postseason, "it didn't" would be an understatement.
In 2012, Nolan has changed everything. Not only are his schemes more complex, but so is his attitude. His never-say-die attitude infects the defense, and it shows on the field. Last week, the New Orleans Saints looked unstoppable during the first half. Nolan made the proper halftime adjustments, and the Atlanta defense gave the offense several chances to win. Though the offense failed to capitalize, the defense never quit.
When the Atlanta Falcons found themselves in a 13-0 hole against the Cardinals largely due to turnovers, the defense could have easily mailed in the rest of the game. When the defense made huge stops only to come right back on the field, they could have easily started pointing fingers. Instead, they fought. They gave their all.
To be fair, the Arizona Cardinals offense put less pressure on Atlanta's defense than Atlanta's own turnover-prone offense.
From Game Manager to Gunslinger
Matt Ryan has been called a game manager by some. During his first four years in the league, RB Michael Turner has received more credit for Atlanta's great regular season record. Ryan has shouldered the blame for Atlanta's postseason woes. Fair or unfair, this is the nature of the NFL.
In 2012, Ryan has been freed from the shackles of Mike Mularkey's "ball security first, win second" mindset. The result is showing up more in the win column than the stat sheet. And in what might be Ryan's worst game as a pro, Matt Ryan showed he had turned the corner.
Looking back at the playoff debacle in New York last year, Atlanta's offense was stopped early and often. While they did not quit exactly, their confidence and aggressiveness seemed to fall with each setback.
The ugly win against the Cardinals displayed the complete opposite. Ryan was picked off five times. Roddy White seemed to be playing hot potato for the first interception. This was followed by tipped balls, poor throws and a bad decision. A strong argument could have been made to abandon the passing game and rely on the anemic running game.
Yet when it mattered most, Matt Ryan was money. In the fourth quarter, Ryan put together a seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive for the come-from-behind win. Ryan put his mistakes behind him and made the big-time throws needed to win.
The will to win is at the heart of postseason success. Ryan does not have far to look for a perfect example. Division rival Drew Brees has thrown 73 interceptions since Ryan entered the NFL. Ryan has thrown 58, including Sunday's debacle. But Brees has also won a Super Bowl in that time as well.
It is a lesson that does not seem to be lost on Ryan.