Matt Ryan will face a long offseason if he fails to lead the Atlanta Falcons to victory over the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.
Set to lace up for his fourth playoff appearance in five seasons, the 27-year-old quarterback has still not played on the winning side of any of those bouts.
A loss to Seattle would open the floodgates to a sea of backlash. Matty Ice would become Matty Choker. The relatively popular signal-caller would turn into public enemy No. 3 behind Tony Romo and Mark Sanchez, because even a nine-interception game wouldn't draw that much scorn for Ryan.
Ryan is now the latest quarterback who needs to fight the proverbial playoff monkey off of his back. The Falcons are 0-3 in their first three playoff games, and Ryan's individual performance has been far from pretty.
In those three contests, Ryan accumulated just 584 passing yards with three touchdowns, four interceptions and two fumbles. If he falters again on the big stage, his incredible season won't matter to over-reactionary football fans.
Judging a player's legacy on three games might be unfair, and placing all the blame on a player for losing in a team sport is certainly unfair.
Let's look at the opposition Ryan's squad suffered defeats to during this stretch. He was outdueled by Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, with all three advancing to the Super Bowl during that postseason.
So is it really justified to criticize Ryan when Atlanta's defense surrendered 48 points to Aaron Rodgers at home?
Does Ryan deserve a permanent red mark on his record for losing a six-point game on the road to a future Hall of Famer? And that was during his rookie season.
Meanwhile, Joe Flacco is a winner, because the Baltimore Ravens rode Ray Rice and the defense to playoff victories during his decent tenure.
Anyone who thinks Flacco is a superior player to Ryan needs to get his or her head checked. Finally afforded the chance to run the show in lieu of a sluggish, old Michael Turner, Ryan completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,719 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
He enters the postseason as a top 10 quarterback who might just have a claim for the last spot in the top five. But for the public to take him seriously as an emerging star, he needs a strong playoff showing.
Writing Ryan off for losses he suffered years ago isn't the right way to evaluate a player. He has grown up, and the team has tossed out a gruelingly conservative offensive scheme that never gave Ryan the chance to shine.
Now it's his team. Now he has two explosive wide receivers and one of the game's best tight ends at his disposal. And now he gets to play at home, where they only lost once this season (in the final week, after they had already clinched the No. 1 seed).
There won't be much room to defend Ryan if he botches this one.
Will it be right to place the entire fault on Ryan if the Falcons lose? No, but it will happen anyway, so he really needs a win.
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