'I have to be better with the football': Falcons' Matt Ryan rues late-game mistakes

It was late in the fourth quarter. The Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers were tied 17-17, and the Falcons were given a golden opportunity.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had the ball with a chance to pull out the latest fourth-quarter win in his 13-year career because Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert had just been picked off by Blidi Wreh-Wilson at the Atlanta 38 with 53 seconds left in regulation.

"I thought, let's go get the field goal," Ryan said. "Let's win the game."

Ryan thought the game was in the bag, as it had been many previous times in his career. Ryan has 38 career game-winning drives, tied with the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford for second-most since 2008. But it was a short-lived thought. Because three plays later, Ryan was picked off by Chargers cornerback Michael Davis at the Chargers' 41. And as Ryan headed to the sidelines in disgust, he ripped off his helmet and slammed it to the ground.

And the questions began.

Has Ryan lost his fourth-quarter magic? Does he still have it? Is it time for him to go? Is he too old?

It was his third interception in a wild second half against the Chargers, who improved to 4-9 and dropped the Falcons to the same 4-9 record. He also threw an interception to Jahleel Addae deep in Chargers territory on the previous possession and threw a third-quarter pick to Rayshawn Jenkins on a deep ball into the end zone.

Ryan completed 21 of 32 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown along with the three interceptions. He registered his second-lowest passer rating of the season (57.3), which surpassed only his 48.5 mark in a Week 11 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Ryan's passion clearly is still there. Nobody is questioning that. Many are questioning his decision-making ... and his age. He was the Falcons' first-round pick in 2008 and will be 36 years old in May. He says his body feels great and that he couldn't be in a much better place mentally.

"I have to be better with the football," he said, insisting a three-pick day and a four-win season wouldn't shake his confidence.

Interim head coach Raheem Morris gave Ryan a pass, no pun intended.

"He made a mistake," Morris said. "[Monday] is tell-the-truth Monday. We expect him to make these plays and he expects to make these plays. Matt's a high-character guy and I'm sure he'll tell you just that."

"Too much air and not enough pace," Ryan said of his final interception. "Too far inside. Not a good combination. ... It was just a poor throw."

Ryan is a former NFL MVP (2016) and carried the Falcons team to the Super Bowl that same season, losing to the New England Patriots in overtime of Super Bowl LI. In 2018, he signed a five-year, $150 million extension with the Falcons and became the highest-paid player until Aaron Rodgers re-upped with the Green Bay Packers shortly after.

"There are not a lot of things that would cause me to lose confidence in Matt Ryan," Morris said. "Ryan has all of the backing you can have from me as a coach."

Just before his last errant interception, Ryan passed Peyton Manning in passing yardage over his first 13 seasons, as the veteran QB has now thrown for 54,846 yards in his career.

"I love being in the same sentence as Peyton," Ryan said.

But right then, after the loss, it didn’t mean as much to be linked with the Hall of Famer as it normally would have.

"I've got plenty in the tank, I just have to play better," he said.