GLENDALE, Ariz. – As he hobbled around the locker room with his lower right leg heavily wrapped, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan managed to remain upbeat. He even flashed a slight smile while speaking with a team staff member.
Nothing ever seems to faze Ryan, even in the most turbulent times. But it’s fair to wonder how much more punishment he’ll be able to endure the remainder of this season.
Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was a punishing blow to any playoff hopes Ryan and his teammates had. But the physical beating the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week took while attempting a career-high 61 passes was evident from the distraught look on his face in the fourth quarter, right after he got smacked by Cardinals defensive tackle Frostee Rucker.
Ryan threw a season-high four interceptions -- all in the second half -- was sacked four times, and posted an awful quarterback rating of 47.2 just a week after posting a career-best mark of 148.4 Ryan had a career-high five interceptions in a win over Arizona last season.
The Cardinals were credited for 11 quarterback hits Sunday, which would explain why Ryan seemed so gimpy afterward.
"I feel good," Ryan maintained. "Knock on wood. My body’s holding up, feeling good. So, I’m OK."
At 2-5, the Falcons sure aren’t.
Once again, Ryan -- playing without top receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White -- absorbed much of the blame for the offensive woes, although there was plenty to spread around. He wouldn’t have had to attempt so many passes had the offense been able to run. The Falcons managed just 27 yards on 14 carries. Steven Jackson, back in the lineup from a Week 2 hamstring injury, had a mere 6 yards on 11 carries. The offensive line surely didn’t help by failing to create running lanes for Jackson. In fact, Ryan had the team’s longest rush of 13 yards while completing 34 passes for 301 yards.
"You’d love to be able to get both of those going, especially against a defensive line like Arizona’s when they can just pin their ears back and rush," Ryan said of creating balance. "Again, falling behind kind of dictated what we had to do there in the second half. We had to throw the ball to try and get ourselves back in the game. We certainly have to be more balanced."
Once again, red zone failures came back to bite the Falcons. They settled for two early Matt Bryant field goals despite driving to the Cardinals’ 6-yard line on one possession and to their 13 on another.
"Certainly it’s a different ball game if the two opportunities early in the game where we had come away with field goals and, also, the one where we had to punt, we were in field-goal range and I took a sack," Ryan said. "Those things come back to haunt, and it certainly came back to haunt us today."
No one can blame Ryan for the defense surrendering an 80-yard touchdown run to Andre Ellington, the play that seemed to suck a lot of the life out of the Falcons. But Ryan refused to point fingers for the six offensive penalties picked up in the second half: five false starts and a holding call.
"We can’t have as many penalties as we did," Ryan said. "And certainly not the procedural-type. … I take responsibility for it. It’s one of those things, as a quarterback, you have to have everybody on the same page when you break the huddle. I need to be better with that during the week."
The Falcons have to get better all-around, and protecting Ryan better is a big part of the equation. Left tackle Lamar Holmes said the line should take it personal whenever Ryan gets hit that much. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood echoed those words.
"I don’t know how many times we threw the ball, but you’ve got to bat 100 percent, that’s for sure," Trueblood said.
The Falcond would settle for 3-for-4 at this point.
Head coach Mike Smith was asked about Ryan having to take such abuse, regardless of the circumstances.
"He was under duress," Smith said. "We have to do a much better job in keeping the quarterback clean. We did not accomplish that today. It was a tough day."
Indeed it was.