EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 29, 2013

When the heat's on in Atlanta, the "Ice" man plummets

Ryan has chance to make a statement vs. Pats tonight

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — Imagine Tom Brady having to answer to Giselle when the power couple heard the news.

Just months after the Patriots massaged and cajoled Brady into a paycut/contract extension for roughly $27 million guaranteed over the next three years, the Atlanta Falcons locked up their franchise QB, Matt Ryan, for nearly four times that much, five years and just under $104 million, with $57 million guaranteed.

If Tom didn’t take a cast-iron frying pan to the noggin from Lady G, he should have. Ryan is Joe Flacco —without the title! — and Brady is, well Tom Brady.

You can’t help wonder if Mr. Brady takes to the Georgia Dome turf on tonight’s edition of Sunday Night Football (8:30, Ch. 7) with a bit of steam escaping from the ear holes.

Expect none of that from the easy-going “Matty Ice,” which is clearly a nickname he earned at Boston College, not in Falcon Country. Ryan, with a pair of Pro Bowl trips already on the resume, has been anything but “Ice” when it matters, posting a 1-4 mark in his opening five playoff games.

Let’s not even bring up Brady’s dash to a 10-0 playoff run, right out of the gate and the fact that some New Englanders are having trouble digesting TB12’s current post-season ride that has the Pats at 7-7 since.

You have to wonder how the deal will affect Ryan over the long haul. I mean Atlanta has been nowhere near impressive early.

“My goal, and my mindset has been the same since 2008,” Ryan said during a news conference after signing the deal in June. “It’s about winning a championship. And it’s about getting rings. I’m just happy I’m gonna have the opportunity to do that here.”

So, it leads us to today’s NFL dilemma as the 3-0 Pats tip-toe into Atlanta, which sits in full wobble at 1-2 early.

Is Ryan the guy to pick the talent-laden Falcons up by their cleats and lead them back into a full, upright and locked position? Or will he wilt, just as he has in those image-dictating playoff games — in which he’s thrown 9 TDs with 7 interceptions, “good” for an 85.2 passer rating?

“We’ve been close in the two games that we’ve lost, but we haven’t made plays that decide the games, and we haven’t been able to close out those games. We need to do a better job of that moving forward,” said Ryan, sounding like the guy who owned the Boston College campus with three straight 3-loss seasons and unforgettable trips to the MPC Computers Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl and the Champs Sports Bowl.

“You have to go out there and produce and you have to go out there and perform and you have to go out and get a win, regardless of what happened the week before, regardless of what happened the last three weeks. We have to have that mindset week in and week out.”

With all due respect to the guy who invented this cliche — most likely Bill Belichick around 2003 I’d recall — this attitude that all games remain the same might be the single most ruinous statement in professional sports today.

For the great teams and franchises, there are huge games and blowoff games. In Atlanta’s case, there are blowoff games in which you sleepwalk through, like Week 2 at home vs. St. Louis, and there are statement games, establishment games like tonight’s collision on national TV with the Pats.

A victory tonight can go a long way in vindicating Ryan as a prime time performer. Heck, you don’t think a guy like Flacco used a pair of wins over New England last year to drive the price of his deal $120 million up just a little?

But Ryan’s got the cash, and he says he needs more. He needs to be more than just a Champ Sports Bowl champ.

How important is it to him? We’ll see tonight. The entire football world will, too.