During a lost season, Atlanta Falcons fans are looking for any sign, it seems, that their team has mailed it in.
Late in the second quarter of Thursday night’s 17-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took off for the end zone on a third-and-goal from the Saints’ 10-yard-line. He gained four yards and then slid, opting not to risk major injury with a huge collision near the goal line.
Many fans were deeply irritated by that decision, which you can see in Bleacher Report’s animated image at the top of the page.
I’m fine with Ryan’s decision to get down and not take the inevitable hit from numerous Saints defenders. At that point in the game, the Atlanta defense had proven it was capable of slowing Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense, so it was smart for Ryan to avoid a possible fumble and ensure three points to close the gap.
Also, he avoided a possible season-ending injury that might have lingered into the 2014 season. Imagine if one lost season turned into two because Matt Ryan tried to score a touchdown in the second quarter of a game when his team had a 2-8 record.
The main local argument today hinged on comparisons between Ryan’s decision and the decision Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray made in the final minute of the Dawgs’ loss to Auburn on Saturday. Murray’s willing to take off at a moment’s notice and dive head-first into defenders, so why, they asked, did Ryan shy away from that kind of gritty play?
For one, Murray’s play occurred at the end of the game when the Dawgs faced a fourth-and-goal. If Murray didn’t score, the game would be over and UGA would lose to rival Auburn. Also, Ryan is not quite as spry, not quite as compact and running at NFL defenders instead of college players. The Saints’ linebackers could do a lot more damage than Auburn’s defenders, and they close a heck of a lot faster.
Watch the play again and tell me if there was any chance Ryan would be able to score. Who cares what the guy’s salary is? He wasn’t sliding because he didn’t care, he slid because he wasn’t going to score. Atlanta sports radio lit up Friday with callers who had to remind the audience that Matt Ryan is overpaid, soft and not a big-time quarterback.
That faction of Atlanta sports fans will never go away – Ryan could win a Super Bowl and they’d still be convinced he’s an overrated scrub. That narrative has been burned into their brains, and Ryan will always do wrong by them.
But if Ryan is nothing else, he’s smart, and that was proven yet again when he refused to risk his career for a single, trivial touchdown.