Facing third-and-9 at the Tampa Bay 42-yard line with 10 minutes left in regulation, the Falcons quarterback, having nowhere to pass, scrambled 13 yards for the first down. At the end of the play, Ryan, who took a body blow or two, appeared to even say something to Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander.
"Heck of a play by Matt," receiver Julio Jones said. "Lowered his shoulder and went and got the first down for us. ... He probably said 'F-yeah' or something like that. You know how Matt is. He's going to drop the F-bomb."
Ryan clarified the exchange with Alexander.
"I just looked at him," Ryan said. "That's it."
Whatever the case, the play helped set up Ryan's 6-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman, an important score in a 34-29 triumph that broke a three-game losing streak. Ryan was clutch the entire day, completing 31-of-41 passes for 354 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 125.5 against the league's worst pass defense. He also moved past Joe Montana to 16th on the all-time passing touchdown list, boosting his career total to 274.
"Obviously very special," Ryan said of the accomplishment. "Anytime your name's brought up with Joe -- I've gotten to know him a little bit throughout my career, and he's one of the best guys you could ever meet -- so it's obviously special. But I'm more excited about the win."
Ryan's excitement was contagious. There was a much different vibe in the locker room afterward, as if the Falcons had just gotten a shot of confidence. The Falcons' record is 2-4, but the players got one burden off their back by breaking the skid.
"We needed that win," free safety Damontae Kazee said. "I've been depressed the past three, four weeks, man."
Said left tackle Jake Matthews: "We've been fighting for about a month now to get this feeling back again. We've come close sometimes. It feels good to answer offensively and put enough points up to win. So yeah, we're very excited."
The formula for the Falcons' success continues to be relying on their high-scoring offensive attack, considering the depleted defense surrendered 512 yards and four passing touchdowns to Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers. However, the defense did benefit from a little luck when a Winston pass into the end zone bounced off the back of Duke Riley's helmet and into the arms of Brian Poole. Riley said the same thing happened off the back of his helmet while practicing the red zone defense during the week.
Back on offense, the Falcons were perfect in the red zone (3-for-3) for the third time in four home games. Scoring, however, might be even more challenging if Ryan loses injured receivers Calvin Ridley (ankle) and Mohamed Sanu (hip) for any period of the time, and if the Falcons lose veteran kicker Matt Bryant, who appeared to injure a hamstring after nailing a 57-yard field goal.
Injuries aside, the Falcons have somewhat of a favorable upcoming schedule. Next is struggling Eli Manning and the 1-5 New York Giants on Monday Night Football. Then, the Falcons have a much-needed bye to rest up their injured bodies before traveling to Washington to take on the Redskins (3-2). Atlanta then visits the Cleveland Browns (2-3-1) in Week 10.
Jones, who caught 10 passes for 143 yards against the Buccaneers, just wants his teammates to carry the same fighting mentality they showed last week in practice leading up to this game.
"The way we competed against each other in practice, we got into it a little bit," Jones said. "It got chippy. But, 'I'm trying to make you better' all the way around the board. It helps us out today."
We'll see if it helps the rest of the season as the Falcons continue to compensate for not having impact players such as Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Grady Jarrett on defense because of injuries. Jarrett could be back sooner than later, while Jones is eligible to return to game action off of injured reserve for the Nov. 18 matchup with Dallas.
"You always have to start somewhere," Jones said. "That was a great win. But we have to get in there [Monday], obviously it's going to be some things we've got to clean up.
"Everybody pats you on your back, 'Good job, good job, good job. But we've got to go in there and fix things, too, because we still didn't play our best ball."