Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback.
I hate the word, mostly because I don't like words that fail in substantiating the definition, but it's surely a term that has gotten your attention, right?
Perhaps more appropriately, Matt Ryan is much better than most people give him credit for.
Against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the often-maligned quarterback was spectacular. But when he got less than perfect in the second half, the doubters came out.
Statements like this became common (via FOX Sports radio host Peter Burns):
Matt Ryan going full Romo. Everyone knows you can't go full ROMO! #Falcons— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsRadio) January 20, 2013
Or ones like this (via Faux John Madden):
It took awhile but Matt Ryan is back in playoff mode— Faux John Madden (@FauxJohnMadden) January 20, 2013
Newsflash: Matt Ryan made one mistake in this game. One.
Everyone was quick to crucify the quarterback when he threw what appeared to be an ugly interception in the third quarter, but it's hard to blame Ryan for the normally reliable Roddy White slipping after he had thrown the ball (via CBS Sports' Will Brinson):
Just rewound it: White fell down otherwise probably would've been a catch. Throw was out before he fell.— Will Brinson (@willbrinson) January 20, 2013
Plain and simple, it was a freak play.
The next drive saw Ryan's one mistake. Working out of the shotgun at San Francisco's 37-yard line, he took his eyes off the ball and fumbled the snap, allowing the Niners to take over with good field position.
There's no justifying his error on that play, but it's also not something that should take away from the rest of the star quarterback's performance.
He completed over 70 percent of his throws for 396 yards, three touchdowns and those two turnovers.
He threw with precision. He was hitting long outs and quick slants with the same top-notch accuracy. He hung in under pressure and made all the throws he had to make, leading a crucial drive late in the second quarter, capped with a Gonzalez touchdown after the Niners had seemingly taken control of the momentum.
NFL.com's Rich Eisen summed his play up perfectly:
The Mattural was masterful on that drive. Superb. Huge answer right before the half.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) January 20, 2013
But he didn't win. With the Falcons down four in the final minutes, Ryan led a terrific drive, but could not punch in the game-winning score.
Now he'll get labeled as a "choke."
People won't remember Colin Kaepernick's 16-of-21 performance with no turnovers and the dominance of the 49ers' running game (over five yards per carry) on the other side of the field. People won't remember that Ryan cut up two of the league's best pass defenses in the last two weeks.
Football, as it turns out, is a team game.
The quarterback is the most important position in the sport, of course, but Matt Ryan and his receivers, no matter how good they are, can't do everything by themselves.
Hopefully the rest of the sports world now recognizes that and gives Matty Ice the respect he deserves, despite the loss. Hopefully they now know that he has shed the label of "poor playoff performer" and recognize he is clearly capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl.
Probably not, though.