FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — They all laughed about it, just as the internet world did when the video went viral.
In the Atlanta Falcons‘ auditorium following a Week 15 win at Tampa Bay, coach Dan Quinn clicked on game highlights and pumped up the audio. One particular clip featured quarterback Matt Ryan motioning to his right toward wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, trying to get them aligned off a double motion as the play clock ticked down.
“Get f—ing set,” Ryan yelled, with a microphone picking it up to make it loud enough to be heard all the way back in Atlanta.
Sanu insisted he didn’t know what Ryan said at the moment, but everyone in the meeting room heard him clearly.
“I look over at Mo, who was like three seats down,” right tackle Ryan Schraeder said, “and Mo says, ‘Matt really be talking to us like that?’ It was just funny. I heard it on the field.”
Said Sanu, “I definitely laughed. We saw it all over social media. Definitely got a big buzz.”
Jones, who has played with Ryan since 2011, said his quarterback “always throws F-bombs” around. The Falcons understand it’s just a credit to the type of intense competitor the reigning MVP truly is.
First-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian loves it.
“That’s how I know him, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said. “Matt is a great leader. And his teammates respect him. He is demanding. He’s not only demanding on everyone, but he’s demanding of himself.
“I think you just saw the sheer and raw competitor come out there at a critical moment of a big game on a Monday night. He wanted those guys to get set so we could run what we wanted to run. That’s the way he operates.”
Sarkisian has gained an appreciation for how even in moments of frustration Ryan doesn’t let it fester to the point it throws him out of whack. That’s why “Matty Ice” has engineered 36 game-winning drives and 27 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career.
Ryan, who leads the Falcons into Saturday’s wild-card matchup with the Los Angeles Rams, knows this season hasn’t gone exactly as anticipated, for him or the team. He has had some miserable outings — including two three-interception games and four games with passer ratings under 80. But even when his receivers dropped passes, his line failed to protect, or Sarkisian blew a playcall, Ryan has never pointed the blame at anyone but himself.
He sticks to the motto of moving on to the next play or next game while maintaining his composure, something he learned from watching his older brother, Mike, as a kid. Mike was a quarterback, too, at Widener University outside Philadelphia but had his football dreams shattered by a right elbow injury suffered during a car accident both were involved in when Matt Ryan was 16.
“He was four years older than I was [and] all I ever wanted to be was basically him,” said Ryan, who suffered a broken ankle in that accident but was able to, of course, continue his career. “And he always handled himself real calm and collected. It never looked like he was fazed or rattled by anything. I remember growing up just trying to play that way as well. From a young age, that’s probably where I got it from.”
Backup quarterback Matt Schaub is used to seeing Ryan’s calmness up close. Schaub pointed to a moment during the rain-filled matchup with the New York Jets in Week 8 when the headsets went down a couple of times, someone brought in the wrong play, and there were wristband issues to top it off.
“We were able to give [Ryan] one word, and he was able to spit out a 14-word playcall,” Sarkisian said. “I think that just tells you about his preparation, about what he does throughout the week to get himself prepared to play. He literally can memorize the calls for the game plan. It took one word and he was able to get us through a pretty successful play.”
Ryan threw a screen pass to Tevin Coleman on a third-and-25 play that resulted in 22 yards, giving Matt Bosher more room to punt and leading to a fumble on the punt return, recovered by the Falcons. It was one of those under-the-radar plays that folks sometimes don’t give Ryan much credit for, but the end result was Matt Bryant‘s fourth-quarter field goal in a 25-20 win.
Of course, Ryan is not always totally under control. Schraeder caught his quarterback in a vulnerable moment about a month ago, during a walk-through.
“I had to relieve myself of some gas, and it was super loud and interrupted his cadence,” Schraeder said. “And he just started laughing during his cadence and lost it.”
Schraeder wasn’t joking.
“I did laugh,” Ryan said. “It was really, really bad.”
All jokes aside, Ryan and the Falcons have quite a challenge ahead. They have put last year’s Super Bowl implosion behind and are now focusing on scoring touchdowns against a tough Rams defense, led by virtually unstoppable defensive tackle Aaron Donald. As the sixth seed, the Falcons have to win three in a row on the road for a return to the Super Bowl. Ryan is 5-3 on the road this year, completing 168 of 259 passes for 2,110 yards with 12 touchdowns, five interceptions, and a 97.5 passer rating.
This will mark Ryan’s eighth career playoff game, and he’s 3-5. He’s completed 68 percent of his postseason passes for 2,224 yards with 18 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 102.4.
Ryan said he’s learned from his playoff experience how to maintain the same routine. Teammate Ricardo Allen, one of the Falcons’ designated “chiefs” along with Ryan, raved about how the rest of the players feed off Ryan’s serene approach.
That respect isn’t just for Ryan’s on-field accomplishments, either. Allen pointed to another recent team meeting — which featured much cleaner language — where Ryan raised the topic of why practice-squad players should get better benefits to a NFLPA representative. Allen, as a former practice-squad player himself, appreciated how his quarterback, who makes $20 million a year, spoke up.
That’s why Allen gets a little heated when folks criticize Ryan. But Allen has learned from “Matty Ice” that there’s no reason to let it get under his skin.
“It used to bother me what people said about me, and I remember one time asking Matt if [criticism] bothered him,” Allen said. “He told me, ‘I don’t even look at that stuff.’ For him not to look at it — and he gets millions of people mad at him for one bad throw — if he ain’t mad at that s—, I don’t care about a couple hundred people talking s— about me.”