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.