Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ryan delivering on his promise to spark Falcons' bid for history

Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns and rushed for another as the Falcons blew the Packers away to book their place in Houston in a fortnight. Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns and rushed for another as the Falcons blew the Packers away to book their place in Houston in a fortnight. Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Maylon

Matt Ryan might have more weapons at his disposal than any other quarterback in the NFL but, as he jumped into the endzone for a 14-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers, he underlined his leap from good player to great.

It was Ryan's first rushing TD in nearly five years, but now, at 31, coming off a career best season with the Atlanta Falcons and heading to his first Super Bowl, he is a top-class quarterback.

His latest aerial masterclass, in front of a boisterous home crowd, played out on alternate possessions as Aaron Rodgers found himself unable to dig the Packers out of a hole as they lost the NFC Championship game 44-21.

While out-playing Rogers is a feather in the cap, firing your side into only their second Super Bowl appearance is far greater.

It would only be surpassed by beating the New England Patriots and hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy itself in two weeks' time.

In Julio Jones, Ryan has one of the best wide receivers in the game. Jones has the speed of an Olympic sprinter, the range and length of a basketball player and the body control of a ballerina.

Flanking Ryan in the backfield has been the best running back duo in the game. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could have erased each other's effectiveness or been pawns for internal politics.

Instead they complement each other perfectly, keeping defences honest and providing Ryan with options out of the backfield.

The man who will likely get the most credit for elevating Ryan to the star form of this season is the Falcons' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

In Houston in a fortnight, Shanahan will lead the Falcons' offence for the final time before taking his first job as a head coach in San Francisco, with the ailing 49ers. But before then he must prepare for the ultimate meeting of minds with 67-year-old Bill Belichick.

Then Shanahan will be gone, and whether Ryan wins the Super Bowl or not, the next challenge will be maintaining the level of performance he showed this season.

Ryan has always had the tools but has taken time to let loose. With a great coach above him and increasing levels of talent around him, he made them into the best offence in football.

But Ryan, staying true to his 'Matty Ice' nickname, isn't getting carried away by the greatest win of his career.

"It felt real normal," said Ryan. "We played the way we're capable of playing, and it's always nice to do that in this game."

It will be even nicer to do so in their next game, the biggest game on earth. (© Independent News Service)

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