FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan still won’t criticize his NFL colleagues for leaving him off a list of the league network’s top 100 players this summer.
Instead, Ryan has turned that slight to his favor.
He has emerged as the NFL leader in passer rating, completion percentage and touchdowns. Now in his fifth year, Ryan finally has a top cast of playmakers and a steady play-caller in place.
“I think obviously winning is what it’s all about, and we’ve done a good job of that so far,” Ryan said on Tuesday. “It’s a fun game. It’s fun to play. We’ve got great teammates, we have good camaraderie and it’s a fun team to be a part of.”
When the NFL network released its list of the current top 100 players a couple of months ago, Ryan’s name was nowhere to be found in either the players-only poll or the fan poll.
Perhaps Atlanta’s 0-3 record in the playoffs weighed against the quarterback who has a 46-19 regular season record entering this week’s home game with Carolina.
Ryan, the 2008 NFL offensive rookie of the year and a Pro Bowl two years later, believes the best favor he can show is to keep winning.
“The statistics and those kinds of things, if we play well and if I play well, I think we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Getting off to quick starts has been a big part of early success for Atlanta, which is the only NFL team to score touchdowns on opening possessions of the first three games.
Another early burst on Sunday at home against Carolina (1-2) could help the Falcons reach their first 4-0 start since 2004.
Ryan and his teammates were in such a groove last week at San Diego that their opening 10-play, 80-yard drive included no third downs. Everything called by first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter seemed a potentially good fit.
“Just staying ahead of the chains,” four-time Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White said. “I think we’re doing a good job of play-calling on first and second down, and Dirk’s doing a heck of a job just being aggressive, getting us chunks down the field. Every time we get chunks down the field and get some explosives on those drives, we’re going down and scoring points.”
Ryan might publicly brush off the meaning of his numbers, but one trend is notable — the Falcons are 26-0 when his passer rating is 100 or better.
Ryan credits Koetter’s schemes and his teammates’ awareness with giving him enough time to connect with White, Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Against San Diego, Ryan and Jones connected on a 9-yard touchdown pass on the right sideline of the end zone.
The play was set up by linemen Tyson Clabo and Garrett Reynolds sealing off space and running back Jacquizz Rodgers picking up a safety blitz.
“In that situation, they probably have one more than we can protect,” Ryan said. “And the thing is if we can just hold up long enough, I feel like we can get the ball out and put it in some space for our guys to make plays.”
Coach Mike Smith believes Ryan’s film study and practice habits are paying off, too.
“He has a very good comfort level with what we’re trying to get done,” Smith said. “It’s not just his arm strength, not just his decision-making; I think it’s his pocket awareness. He’s done a very good job, not necessarily taking off and running, but sliding up in the pocket.”
White sees Ryan playing with more confidence, even though the quarterback snapped a franchise-record streak of 272 games without an interception before throwing one last week.
“We’re not turning over the ball and throwing it to other people,” White said. “Just not throwing bad balls. We’re not getting ourselves into bad plays. He’s making a lot of good checks at the line of scrimmage. He’s doing an excellent job.”