Matt Ryan's coronation could be complete if Falcons win Super Bowl
HOUSTON — Matt Ryan took a glance at the throng of reporters, lights and cameras that surrounded him during one of his media sessions this week and quickly put the scene in perspective.
“Obviously, this isn’t normal, right?” summarized the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback.
No, it’s not. It’s the circus of the Super Bowl, the biggest stage that Ryan and so many others will have ever played on. But at the core, it will still be just a football game, even if it's magnitude — including the stakes, hype, pressure, historical ramifications and even the long halftime — is an X-factor in itself.
Ryan is one of the last guys you’d expect to not handle the Super Bowl buzz. I mean, he’s called Matty Ice for a reason. There will be no better time or place than Sunday at NRG Stadium for him to live up to his moniker.
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“I’m sure everyone will be excited and anxious going into it. But as far as nerves, I feel like we’ve prepared ourselves for this moment,” Ryan said, expanding the theme to envelop the team in which he typically sets the tone by triggering the NFL’s most explosive offense.
“This is exactly where we wanted to be. We’ve put in the work, put in the time. I think we’ll all be ready to go and excited.”
That’s surely the right way to see this thing. But here’s the essence of this championship mission for Ryan: There’s something else to prove. That’s the nature of big-time competition — there’s always something else.
For Ryan, 31, the potential looms for a moment of validation. Win or lose, he is still one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Amid the Super build-up, some have chosen to debate whether he is now to be considered an “elite” quarterback. That can be a murky definition. For the sake of argument, of course he’s “elite” … until it’s proven that he’s not.
Since being drafted third overall by the Falcons in 2008, Ryan has steadily grown into his immense potential. This season, as his connection with coordinator Kyle Shanahan became more lethal in their second season together, Ryan has cut down the turnovers that once dogged him and played the best football of his life. Let the facts weigh in: The pure thrower and quick processor who led the NFL with a 117.1 passer rating hasn’t thrown an interception in two months. In triggering the versatile offense that led the NFL in scoring, he became the first quarterback in league history to throw TD passes to 13 different targets.
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I’d be shocked if Ryan isn’t named the NFL’s MVP when the awards are revealed Saturday night. Ryan had already been named MVP in the balloting for the Pro Football Writers of America, with many of the same voters who cast ballots for the Associated Press, which distributes the NFL’s official awards.
Ryan doesn’t need to validate his spectacular season, but there’s this matter of proving that he can take it the distance with a championship. The last MVP to win a Super Bowl? It sure wasn’t Cam Newton last season. It was Kurt Warner, who, incidentally, should be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, in capping his phenomenal 1999 campaign.
The last seven MVPs who reached the Super Bowl lost.
So Ryan has a chance to snap a streak that would add an exclamation point to the joy of Atlanta winning its first Lombardi Trophy. He surely seems up to it. In the playoffs, you can argue that he’s been even hotter than in the regular season. This postseason, he’s completed 20-of-22 passes on drive-extending third downs, with a 7-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio, which also means he’s continued a pattern in which he hasn’t thrown an interception on third down all season.
But forces threaten this perfect ending for Ryan. Forces like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who together are in their seventh Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. Taking it all the way means getting the best of Brady, whose legacy as perhaps the NFL's greatest winner could be further cemented with a victory that would make him the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls.
Go ahead, Matty Ice, upstage that. That’s part of the Super challenge.
“I don’t think it puts any more pressure on any of us,” Ryan insists. “Tom has had a great career, that’s for sure, and he has been so consistent for so long and done such a great job. It’s impressive. But it’s about one game.”
One game that’s much bigger than the others.
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell
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