By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Matt Ryan may strike you as a quarterback who has a long history of shrinking under the prime time lights. Especially after the Falcons collapsed at the end of Super Bowl LI, which Ryan is at least a smidge culpable of causing. But besides that uniquely intense situation, the QB in recent years hasn’t been as bad in prime time regular season games as you may assume.READ MORE: Jury Selected In Trial Of Thomas Latanowich, Charged With Killing Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon
In fact, he’s actually been pretty good.
Since Dan Quinn took over as Falcons head coach in 2015, Ryan has played in five games on Sunday or Monday night. He’s gone 117-for-170 (68.8 percent) throwing for 1,429 yards, 11 touchdowns, and two interceptions. That’s good for a 111.1 passer rating.
Don’t care about the raw stats? Then you might care about the Falcons’ 4-1 record in those games, including 2-1 on the road.
So as the Falcons come to Foxboro to face the Patriots in the much-heralded Super Bowl LI rematch, the focus on Ryan will be his quest to get the proverbial revenge, and justifiably so. The QB needs to prove as much as anyone that he knows how to close a game out – particularly now, as he and the Falcons are coming off a putrid showing in a fourth-quarter collapse against the Dolphins at home.
Ryan went 7-for-12 passing for 84 yards in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Dolphins, throwing the back-breaking interception that ruined the Falcons’ chances of even tying the game and iced Miami’s 20-17 win. And that wasn’t even a night game.
But here’s the thing … in his last five prime time regular season games, Ryan in the fourth quarter has gone 20-for-31 for 238 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks. That’s a strong 109.3 passer rating. Sure, you can’t necessarily go purely by the stats to fully evaluate a player in crunch time, but it’s most fair to use these particular situations to possibly get an idea of how he and the Falcons might perform on Sunday night in Foxboro.READ MORE: 'This Is Temporary': Federal Eviction Moratorium Extended For Another 2 Months
There’s an important caveat to this whole thing. Ryan has been good on paper and limited his mistakes in prime time games, but as far as the Falcons as a collective team under Quinn? They’ve been outscored 48-37 in the fourth quarter. Even when they’ve won, they’ve either blown leads or barely held on.
Quinn’s very first game as head coach is a great example. The Falcons built a 20-3 halftime lead against the Eagles on Monday Night Football, only to have it whittled down to a 24-23 deficit late in the fourth quarter. Kicker Matt Bryant put the Falcons up 26-24 with 6:27 left, which the Eagles responded to with a missed kick by Cody Parkey. The Falcons then failed to convert a first down on three straight runs and punted with two minutes left, only for then-Eagles QB Sam Bradford to throw an interception to lose the game. Imagine if Tom Brady was granted the same opportunities to take that game away at the end.
You can even point to the Falcons’ Week 2 win over the Packers, their most impressive win of the season. Up 34-10 after three quarters, the Falcons let Aaron Rodgers and the Packers battle back to 34-23 with 5:46 left in the fourth. It would have been hard for Green Bay to get two more possessions anyway, but Ryan and the Falcons actually closed the thing out this time. They bled 4:33 off the clock and punted with 1:13 left up 11 points, leaving the Packers out of time for a comeback. They ran the ball six times on that drive, while Ryan went 3-for-3 passing for 35 yards.
So yes, the Falcons have proved that they know how to properly close out a game on the national stage – at home. It’s different to execute just as effectively in Foxboro as you did on your home field, but at least they have shown that they are capable of not melting down in spectacular fashion. It’s important that they showed they could do it this season, because the prevailing narrative is that the Super Bowl “broke” them and they’re just going to keep blowing leads.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to have an idea of what’s going to happen on Sunday night. I usually like to take an “expect the unexpected” approach with given games in the NFL, which is why I’m not ruling out the Falcons marching into Foxboro and suddenly exploding against the Patriots’ struggling defense. It’s a perfect opportunity for a heavily scrutinized offense to kick-start their season, kind of like Cam Newton did three weeks ago. Then again, perhaps you’re expecting the Patriots defense to take a step back against an explosive offense, so maybe they’re the ones that shock people. Maybe a Patriots blowout really is on the table, considering how the Falcons look at this very moment.
Just understand that if Ryan falters in Foxboro like he did against the Dolphins, it would go against his recent history in prime time games. In that case, maybe he has a letdown. Expect the unexpected, right? But he and the Quinn-led Falcons have been better in these spots (in the regular season) than you may realize; he’s put up strong numbers (even in the fourth quarter) and the team has found ways to win. It’s still tough to expect that to continue against the Patriots, considering the circumstances – but the Patriots defense can’t exactly be expected to stop a team this talented after they had trouble with the Jets.
It’s hard to “expect the unexpected” when you can’t begin to know what to expect in the first place. But in actuality, if Ryan has a bad game on Sunday, that would be the real surprise.MORE NEWS: New Quinnipiac Poll Shows President Biden's Job Approval Slip Over COVID Concerns
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.