After Flacco's cold start, Ryan puts Ravens on ice

Falcons' QB gets nod in matchup of QBs from 2008 draft

  • Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan passes the ball over Ravens defensive end Paul Kruger in the first quarter.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan passes the ball over… (US Presswire )
November 12, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

You could almost see Matt Ryan's brain working at top speed Thursday night against the Ravens' defense.

He recognized coverages, zipped through his progressions, made rapid-fire decisions and fired spirals into tight spots. The Ravens threw a variety of different blitzes and coverages at him, but the third-year quarterback from Boston College never seemed rattled in the Falcons' 26-21 victory. It was like watching a computer with a DSL connection play chess at the level of grand master.

Ryan appeared to be one step ahead of the Ravens on virtually every play, completing 32 of 50 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't burn the Ravens deep as much as he simply tormented them one pass at a time, picking up crucial third downs when he needed them and finding holes in the Ravens' coverage before they could close.

"He played well," said Ravens cornerback Chris Carr. "He made a lot of good decisions. When we had good coverage a couple times, I thought he was going to throw it, and he just took a sack or threw it away. His decision making was excellent. He doesn't go back there an panic. That's the sign of a good quarterback."

He had 20 completions in the first half alone, his fourth straight game with at least that many, and his touchdown pass to Roddy White with 20 seconds to play, the play that gave Atlanta the victory, was a textbook example of how to throw a perfect ball on the run. Maybe White pushed off Josh Wilson, and maybe he didn't. Either way, Ryan threw a perfect ball.

In contrast, Joe Flacco looked like he was making decisions at dial-up speed -- in the first half at least. He hesitated even when he had time to set up in the pocket -- which, in fairness to him, wasn't often. He double-clutched his throws and recognized open receivers a half-second too late. Flacco went into the locker room looking befuddled and frustrated.

But something changed in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. The game slowed down for Flacco, and it was as though he became an entirely different quarterback. He stood taller in the pocket and began stepping into his throws and buying time with subtle movement in the pocket. He hit receivers right as they were coming out of their breaks and made accurate throws under pressure.

"We didn't do a good job finishing drives in the first half," Flacco said. "But I think we really came alive there at the end."

In short, he became the quarterback so many fans have yearned for him to become -- the quarterback who, when all hope seems lost, suddenly plays his best football.

"I thought Matt played well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's obviously one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. But I thought Joe matched him at the end there."

No, it wasn't quite enough to win the football game, but that was hardly Flacco's fault. He wasn't out there playing defense. But it was enough to suggest that Flacco is at least progressing to the point where he doesn't let a slow start turn into a lost cause. He finished the game 22-of-34 for 212 yards and threw three touchdowns, almost all of it coming in the final two quarters.

"It was exciting out there," Flacco said. "I thought we did enough to get the win."

Momentum seesawed so many times in the fourth quarter, either quarterback could have led his team to a victory, a development that seemed highly unlikely after Ryan put the Falcons up 20-7 midway through the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass to White.

But it wasn't over. Flacco responded by driving the Ravens down the field, completing six of seven passes, and he finished it off with a 6-yard touchdown throw to Derrick Mason. He followed it up with one of the best drives of his career, finding Todd Heap open for a 5-yard touchdown that put the Ravens up 21-20.

"You think it's your game [at that point]," Flacco said. "You think it's kind of over."

But in the end, it was Ryan who offered a compelling case in the argument over which young quarterback from the 2008 NFL draft is further along in his career. He picked the Ravens apart one last time -- getting a bit of help on a pass interference penalty by Tavares Gooden -- and leading the Falcons to victory on the touchdown to White with 20 seconds left.

"We have to build off this," Flacco said. "We did a lot of things well. We just didn't do them good enough."

Afterward, Flacco and Ryan shook hands, two promising quarterbacks who looked like they have similar duels to come.

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