Two Years Post-SB Meltdown, Matt Ryan and the Falcons Still Impossible to Trust

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons looks on before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — It was the third quarter, and Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones—as is so often the case—was open down the left sideline near the end zone. Quarterback Matt Flacco didn't see him.

Er, sorry, Matt Ryan. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.      

There is a legion of people who will tell you how great Ryan is. It's almost like a cottage industry. An army of apologists who toss all of Matt Flacco's stats and data and film cut-ups in your face like they're grenades.

Oh, my bad, I did it again. Sorry: Matt Ryan.

The Ryan apologists are everywhere. Ready to pounce. To tell you he's in the same elite tier as Cam Newton and Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. They'll stomp their feet and cross their arms and insist on it.

And surely, they will call Ryan and the Falcons' season opener against the Eagles a battle. They'll say they took the defending Super Bowl champions down to the last play before losing 18-12 in a sloppily played game that in the end was fun.

They'll say Ryan deserves credit for taking the Eagles down to the final moments. Eat that, haters.

But let me ask a question.

Do you really trust this quarterback? Do you really trust this Falcons team?

To me, they seem likely the same ol' Falcons, and this seems like the same ol' Flacco.

Sorry: Ryan. I said Ryan. R-Y-A-N.

The game was ugly. It was one of the worst-officiated games you will ever see. There were a total of 26 penalties for 236 yards. In addition to being a Thursday night game, which is traditionally bad anyway, it was also the opener, and the rust showed.

Yet somehow we watched Nick Foles help will his team to a win. It wasn't pretty. He was just 19-of-34 for 117 yards and an interception. But he kept taking what the defense gave him, even if it meant continually dumping off to Nelson Agholor. He was 3-of-4 for 17 yards on the game-winning drive—nothing special, but exactly what was needed to support the Philadelphia running game, which was wearing down Atlanta's defense. I never felt Foles was going to lose.

Think about that. A career journeyman who had one great stretch last year, and you could just see that somehow, someway, he was going to win.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons shakes hands with Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles after the Eagles defeated the Falcons 18-12 at Lincoln Financial Field on September 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (P
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

He has skill, sure, but Foles also has confidence. He has confidence despite knowing that eventually, maybe in just a few weeks, he could be replaced by Carson Wentz. He just doesn't seem to care. Nothing seems to bother him.

The opposite seems true with Ryan. He has everything around him. He has a good running game—led by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman—and maybe the second-best receiver in the league in Julio Jones. His line is good, and his defense isn't bad.

And on Thursday, he did what he so often does—what those who argue for him so often point out. He won the statistical battle, throwing for 251 yards (on 21-of-43 passing).

But he also had the opportunity to change the narrative about him and the Falcons, to win, and he lost. It was the last play of the game, at the Eagles' 5-yard line, and they came up short again.

What happened in the red zone in this game is a microcosm of what this Falcons team is and why it is almost impossible to trust. Ryan was 1-of-9 with an interception there.

After the game, Ryan was asked extensively about the Falcons' red-zone struggles. He patiently answered every question but kept making the same point.

"It's one game," he said. "That's the sample size that we have right now. It's disappointing that we didn't make them tonight. It's not a season of not scoring touchdowns."

In those short-field and short-yardage plays, the Falcons don't seem capable of winning the intense one-on-one battles. This was the case last season and is again this year. 

"You're not going to get me to say anything bad about Matt Ryan," Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins said. "He's a great player. But we have great players, too."

"No panic on the sideline," said Eagles coach Doug Pederson about his team. "Resiliency. The guys hanging together."

For once, just once, it'd be nice to hear people call Ryan and the Falcons resilient.

The Eagles are a mentally tough and talented football team. They're not a fluke, and they're 10-1 at home, including the playoffs, since start of last season.  

Again, this was Ryan's game to take.

The best quote from anyone, possibly ever, about Ryan didn't come from either postgame locker room. It came from Hall of Famer Steve Young on ESPN.

"He's a solid player," Young said. "He doesn't get overwhelmed. I feel like he's ahead of the game. What I want to do is say, 'Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.' That's what I want to do. But it just keeps not happening. ... I want Matt to step up and make that last drive."

"Matt's been playing great football for a long time, but there is something about that last bit of getting to Everest," Young continued. "That last base camp all the way to the top that Matt just needs to climb himself."

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons signals during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

That quote is the truest thing about any player in the league you might hear this whole season.

The Falcons will be good. They'll put up some numbers and be a threat. Ryan will have his usual backers and apologists.

The problem nonetheless will remain. We still can't trust Matt Flacco.

Dangit.

       

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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