He finally did it. He won a playoff game. A round of applause should be given to Matt Ryan for his gutsy performance on Sunday. It wasn’t without mistakes, as he threw two interceptions, but he fought back and put his team in a position to win with two big throws in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.
When Ryan walked onto the field prior to taking the first snap of his final drive, Brian Billick was nostalgic. He kept referencing the mighty comeback Ryan led against the Chicago Bears in 2008, which was a very good and somewhat similar one to this. On Ryan’s final throw that day to set up the game-winning field goal, he hooked up with wide receiver Michael Jenkins, as Billick later recalled, around the 30-yard line on a corner route that was ran on the backside of the formation. Then kicker Jason Elam struck the ball through the uprights for a 22-to-20 victory.
All I could think about during Billick’s recount was when Steve Young stood on the sideline at Super Bowl XXIX and yelled “someone take the monkey off my back!”. This was Ryan’s chance the get the monkey off his and he took full advantage of it. Despite his team blowing a 20-point lead, Ryan was poised to get his first playoff win. And on his first throw, he completed a pass just in-bounds to slot receiver Harry Douglas for 22 yards on a passing concept that Young knew very well: Sail.
Sail is a three-man combination concept that floods one area of the field. On this play, the Falcons did just that from a Trips Left set.
Wide receiver Roddy White was given a go-route, and its purpose was to clear out cornerback Brandon Browner. Browner was playing with deep third responsibilities on this play because Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley interestingly called for a fire zone blitz — a five-man rush consisting of three underneath defenders and three deep ones — on the play. Whereas most coaches sit back in prevent coverage, Bradley was aggressive. However, like his colleagues going up against Ryan this season, he was going to be burned.
The next route was the sail route ran by Douglas, who was the No. 2 receiver (counting from the sideline in). He was going to be Ryan’s target on this play, but not before tight end Tony Gonzalez ran his route. Gonzalez, the third and final threat from the left side of the formation, ran a flat route to draw the attention of nickel cornerback Marcus Trufant.
When Trufant ran to the flats to cover Gonzalez, it was an interesting coverage assignment because it forced middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to run from basically the line of scrimmage to Douglas, who ran his sail route. As athletic as Wagner is, this was a tough cover for him because was asked to cover a significant amount of ground and cover a speedy receiver. As one could predict, there was quite a bit of separation between Douglas and Wagner when the former broke off his route outside.
With Browner cleared out by Roddy White’s vertical route, and Tony Gonzalez occupying Trufant, Douglas was able to work his sail route in between his teammates for the 22-yard reception.
After the catch, Billick said, “and this is exactly how they came back in the Chicago game, with a deep outside throw, I believe, it was Michael Jenkins from before. ” He was right; the only difference was roughly 20 yards, which would mostly come on the second throw, a 19-yard strike to Gonazlez. The throw to Gonzalez put the Falcons in field goal range, and they capitalized when Matt Bryant split the uprights for the 30-28 win.
It was Ryan’s first career playoff win and fifth career comeback in the final minute of the fourth quarter, which is the most ever by a quarterback according to Scott Kacsmar Cold Hard Football Facts. Ryan also has a fourth quarter comeback percentage of .552, which is the highest in NFL history. If he’s to get his second playoff win and advance to the Super Bowl, he will have to make more big throws this upcoming Sunday against a very impressive San Francisco 49ers defense.
Will he be able to do it?