Matt Ryan Shows Not All MVP Types Are the Same in Slicing Up Seahawks

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2017

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts after beatting the Seattle Seahawks  at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

ATLANTA — MVP award? Forget the MVP award. Matt Ryan wasn't even sure where the game ball went from Saturday's 36-20 playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

"I don't even know what happened to it, to be honest with you," Ryan said after the game. "I was just holding on to it and someone took it."

It's not so surprising when you consider Ryan was forced to navigate swarms of photographers and well-wishers to get off the field after his definitive 338-yard, three-touchdown performance.

"I don't really collect those things," he said after exiting to a deafening chant of "M-V-P" thundering down from the stands.

Does that sound like an MVP to you? Uninterested in individual achievements? Humble amid the maelstrom of adoring fans? So unimpressed with himself that he can't be bothered with a souvenir from arguably the greatest victory of his career?

Come to think of it, that sounds exactly like an MVP.

"Matt's Matt," Atlanta Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu said after the game. "He's a great player. And he's 'Ice' for a reason."

Mohamed Sanu's fourth-quarter touchdown helped secure the Falcons' victory.
Mohamed Sanu's fourth-quarter touchdown helped secure the Falcons' victory.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Sanu was one of many beneficiaries of Ryan's emphatic statement of a performance Saturday. He finished with four catches for 44 yards and a late-game touchdown that put the game out of reach.

"It was just a little fade, and Matt saw the matchup he liked," Sanu said of his fourth-quarter touchdown catch. "He put the ball up, and I went and got it for him."

Sanu also caught a 22-yard over-the-shoulder raindrop in the middle of the most remarkable drive of the game: a nine-play, 99-yard punch to the gut of the vaunted Seahawks defense just before halftime. "I got a great release at the line and got [the defender] trailing on me, and he threw the ball perfectly."

He threw the ball perfectly. 

That was the story for Ryan over and over again Saturday.

On the 99-yard drive, there was Tevin Coleman, wide open in the corner of the end zone. Ryan delivered a fastball right into his belly.

"I knew that was going to be a big touchdown," Devonta Freeman said of the big play by his backfield partner. "We run that play in practice all the time. That's his specialized play."

Tevin Coleman's touchdown catch gave the Falcons a 19-10 lead at halftime against the Seahawks.
Tevin Coleman's touchdown catch gave the Falcons a 19-10 lead at halftime against the Seahawks.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Freeman got a highlight play of his own: a 53-yard catch-and-run on third down that set up a fourth-quarter field goal to keep the Seahawks at arm's length.

"It was a well-executed play called at the right time," Freeman said. "Matt stood in the pocket and made a great play. I made a great catch. And I knew I was going to make that safety miss."

When Julio Jones was sidelined with a foot injury, Ryan delivered an 18-yard throw to Levine Toilolo on 2nd-and-9 to secure the first down before tossing that fourth-quarter touchdown to Sanu. When the Falcons needed to extend drives and eat clock against a Seahawks defense that was blitzing, Ryan found Justin Hardy for a toe-dragging first-down catch along the sideline.

"I think we are all an extension of one another," Ryan said of his many receivers. "That's been one of the coolest things about our offense and our team this year is at different times during the game, different guys are going to step up and make plays."

It was an overwhelming offensive performance by the Falcons against a defense with a well-earned playoff reputation. Yet the atmosphere in the Falcons locker room was nonchalant and subdued. This was another day at the office for them, after all. The Falcons averaged 33.8 points and 415.8 offensive yards per game during the regular season. What's the big deal about 36 points and 422 yards in a playoff game against the mighty Seahawks? Perhaps it's just a sign the Falcons offense is actually getting better.

"The only people who can slow us down are us," Freeman said. "But we put in too much work to let that happen. The sky's the limit for us."

Ryan entered the playoffs saddled with two contradictory narratives. On the one hand, there has been growing MVP chatter. On the other hand was his so-called "playoff legacy." Ryan's Falcons were 1-4 in postseason games before Saturday. All of their appearances took place between 2008 and 2012. Surely the veteran is seeking redemption or validation after so many past disappointments.

"I don't think about it all that much," Ryan said. "When you're playing, you're focused on trying to do your best this week. For me, that's where my mind's at, hopefully. I think if you start thinking about other things, it distracts you from what's important.

Ryan connected on 26 of 37 pass attempts and three touchdown passes in Atlanta's 36-20 win over Seattle on Saturday.
Ryan connected on 26 of 37 pass attempts and three touchdown passes in Atlanta's 36-20 win over Seattle on Saturday.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

And really, who cares about a 2008 loss to Kurt Warner's Arizona Cardinals? Or that 24-2 loss to the New York Giants in 2011, when Ryan kept getting stuffed on quarterback sneaks? That was all long ago.

Those old Falcons teams were talented. This one is better. Ryan can count upon sixth and seventh options like Toilolo or Austin Hooper to make big plays when called upon. He can count on his offensive line to give him time and create room for Freeman and Coleman.

After ladling praise on his offensive line and receiving corps when asked directly about Ryan, head coach Dan Quinn finally got around to lauding his quarterback.

"He just had a perfect week, Matt did," Quinn said. "For his preparation, he stayed on the same path that he has been on during the regular season."

That's the wedge issue in the MVP debate. Ryan looks like a (brace yourself) game manager at times, spreading the ball out to so many playmakers that it looks easy. And he doesn't exactly draw attention to himself by lighting up the postgame quote sheet.

Maybe losing the game ball was appropriate. Maybe a team with as many weapons as the Falcons needs to cut it up and share it among a few dozen guys, while the MVP award goes to an Aaron Rodgers-type who enjoyed a little less support.

Or maybe we are looking at things the wrong way.

"Matt has done an amazing job this year," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "He's poised and spreads the ball. Everyone is involved on every play, and that's special.

"The way he manages that offense, he is having as good of a year as I've seen from a quarterback in any given year."

Let the record show that Freeney played with Peyton Manning in his Colts prime. He knows MVP-caliber quarterbacking when he sees it. He also knows that great quarterbacks like Manning made their great supporting casts even better and that carving up a defense as good as Seattle's by giving eight different players meaningful touches is not as easy as it looks.

Ryan left the Georgia Dome turf to chants of M-V-P from the stands.
Ryan left the Georgia Dome turf to chants of M-V-P from the stands.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Freeney's praise was about as close as the Falcons would come to Ryan MVP talk. Their goal, after all, is to win a championship, not to win individual awards. The team that dominated Seattle on Saturday is capable of making stir-fry out of the banged-up Packers secondary. It can more than hold its own in a shootout against the Cowboys. The sky truly is the limit.

With neither Ryan nor the Falcons talking MVP very much, it was up to the Georgia Dome crowd to make its voice heard in what could be the last game in that arena before the Falcons move to the enormous pleasure palace being built next door. That M-V-P chant started in the third quarter and kept reprising every time Ryan extended another drive with a smart read and a perfect throw.

Ryan said the chant was "pretty cool" before moving on to praise the crowd for making so much noise.

"It's awesome," Sanu said of the chant. "I love it. His numbers don't lie. He's doing a great job, and we just gotta keep doing this."

If they do it again, the Falcons will reach the Super Bowl.

Maybe then Ryan will become interested in collecting souvenirs.

   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier. 

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