ATLANTA -- Once again, a battered and bruised Matt Ryan refused to point fingers even despite absorbing a career-high nine sacks Sunday.
One of his teammates, however, was willing to speak up on his behalf. And Roddy White didn't hold back his words.
"Next year, that's got to be something that we improve: We've got to keep our quarterback clean because he's not going to make it," White said. "You keep taking hits and hits and you're not going to make it. We're going to have to find ways to get him protected, keep him upright so he can do what he do and that's make throws and win football games."
Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times this season. In Sunday's 21-20 loss the Carolina Panthers, he was hit 14 times to go with those nine sacks. Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy set a franchise record with four sacks. Ryan finishes the season as the league's third most sacked quarterback, behind the Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill (58) and the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco.
Several times, Ryan seemed to get up slowly after being thrown to the ground. But he brushed himself off and kept going.
"You know what? I feel good," Ryan maintained concerning his health. "Knock on wood, at the end of the season, I'm healthy.
"We all have to improve, there's no doubt about it. I have to play better. We have to play better up front. We have to play better on the outside.
Collectively, we didn't play good enough to win. Certainly, we'll look hard at it -- what the reasons were for that -- when we get back to work and start to evaluate this season. But across the board, I think we need to be better."
Ryan easily could have suffered a serious left knee injury with 11 minutes, 38 second remaining in the third quarter. Center Joe Hawley gave up pressure to Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who dove in at Ryan's knee. Ryan got up screaming in disgust, and the officials flagged Edwards for roughing the passer.
"That's bang-bang," Ryan said. "It's one of those things. It happens. You hate for it to happen to anybody. You hate for it to happen to yourself. But, it's part of the game. It got flagged, and we kept going."
If anything, Sunday emphasized the need for the Falcons to bolster the offensive line and add a true blocking tight end to the mix. The Falcons and general manager Thomas Dimitroff will have a high draft pick, and there are some solid tackles in Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Michigan's Taylor Lewan, and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, to name a few. Plus free agency could be an option. The Chicago Bears bolstered their offensive line last offseason by adding tackle Jermon Bushrod from New Orleans.
However the Falcons proceed, Ryan has full confidence in the organization.
"I think it starts from the top, and we've got an owner in Mr. [Arthur] Blank that is committed to winning," Ryan said. "He is willing to do whatever it takes to win. As a player, when you play for that kind of organization, you cannot ask for any more. And I believe we've got the best owner in football."