NFC Championship Game 2013: How Loss Affects Matt Ryan's Falcons Legacy

Stephen Sheehan@@StephenPSheehanCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2013

With a chance to overcome his playoff demons and silence his critics, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons came up short in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. 

And for Ryan and head coach Mike Smith, who have ushered in a new brand of football in the post-Michael Vick era, this loss only adds more doubt to their legacies in Atlanta. 

The Falcons' 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday reinforced a troubling trend in what's been an otherwise terrific first five years of Ryan's career: He can't win the big game. 

After narrowly beating the Seattle Seahawks last week, Ryan appeared to be shaking the playoff monkey off his back. And for most of the first half Sunday, it appeared the former Boston College star was well on his way to sending his team to its first Super Bowl since 1998.

Unfortunately for Falcons fans, it was a tale of two halves at the Georgia Dome.

A tale that ended in misery.

With Julio Jones on pace to shatter every playoff receiving record and Roddy White providing a deadly No. 2 threat, Atlanta shredded San Fran's defense for 24 points in the first half. Ryan received steady protection up front, allowing time for Jones to eat up San Fran's smaller defensive backs to make big plays.

Three touchdown passes and a 35-yard Matt Bryant field goal later, the Falcons went into halftime with a 24-14 lead.

They wouldn't score again. 

In another cruel episode of Ryan's playoff saga, the third overall pick in 2008 couldn't get anything going in the second half. And for the fourth time in five appearances, the face of the Falcons finished on the losing side of the equation. 

Ryan's 396 passing yards and three touchdowns look great on the surface, but it ultimately wasn't enough, especially in crunch time. 

Atlanta went scoreless on five second-half possessions, including an interception by Ryan in the third quarter. 

With a chance to win the game and send his team to New Orleans, he threw incomplete passes on third and fourth down from the San Fran 10-yard line. It was that close. 

Despite his great regular-season play—he's gone 56-22 in five seasons—Ryan has been unable to lead his team past the conference championship. For a player surrounded by stars in Jones, White and Tony Gonzalez, that simply isn't good enough. 

Atlanta's franchise player is falling into the Tony Romo category of a player who puts up great regular-season numbers but can't do it in the playoffs. Sure, he played great in the first half, but what happened in the second? A great quarterback is able to win in the playoffs, and to this point in his career, Ryan hasn't done that. 

Luckily for Ryan, he can continue to grow with Jones, and White will still be around for a few more prime seasons. However, another playoff loss will prevent Ryan from cementing himself as an all-time great. 

Right now, he's just another QB watching the Super Bowl from home. 

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