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 Post subject: no longer under the radar
PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2012 6:08 pm 
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http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/869 ... cant-think

The Incomplete Tale of Matt Ryan
History has told us time and time again that judging someone by his early playoff record is a mistake
By Bill Barnwell on November 30, 2012

Because the Falcons are the 11-1 team that nobody seems to believe in, it feels like we're all laying out a road map of the things they have to do before they deserve to be taken seriously. Never mind that the Falcons were 43-21 during Matt Ryan's professional career before this season began, which is the fifth-best record for any team over that four-year stretch. The Falcons need to beat a great team, even though they comfortably handled a Broncos team in Week 2 that we all didn't realize was quite that good. They need to win on the road, even though they blew out the Chargers by 24 in San Diego when the Ravens needed a miracle and overtime to win there by three. They needed to beat these Saints last night, in what was probably the only time an announcer declared a home game versus a 5-6 team to be a "must-win" for a 10-1 squad.1

And now, of course, the next step in our road map for the Falcons is to win a playoff game with Ryan at the helm. Since Atlanta already has a playoff spot virtually sealed up, Ryan and the Falcons are going to spend the next four weeks deflecting that same question about their legitimacy in interview after interview, something Ryan already had to do during the postgame show last night. That criticism conflates the words "haven't" and "can't." It suggests that there's something lacking about Ryan's abilities or even Atlanta's character. That both Ryan and his team truly can't be taken seriously — that they don't deserve to be taken seriously — until they beat somebody in January. I don't know that the Falcons will win the Super Bowl or even that lone playoff game this year, but impugning Ryan and his team on some sort of illegitimate-until-they-win argument is lazy. There is no next hurdle for the Falcons to cross because that's a narrative trick, not a genuine way that people win or lose football games. All it takes to realize that is a little bit of historical perspective.

Let's look a little closer at the Falcons' 0-3 postseason record with Ryan. The three losses were all in games where the Falcons were competitive through the first half, even if the game did eventually get away from them in the second. In the 2008 playoffs, they led Arizona 17-14 on the road at halftime before losing the lead on an Antrel Rolle fumble return for a touchdown, eventually losing 30-24. Two years later, they were down 21-14 to the Packers with 14 seconds left in the first half and the ball on the Green Bay 26-yard line, but Ryan took a sack and threw a pick-six to Tramon Williams that marked the final play of the half; Green Bay promptly scored on the opening drive of the second half, turning what could have been a 21-21 game into a 35-14 blowout that eventually finished 48-21. And last year, Atlanta was down 7-2 at halftime and then 10-2 in the third quarter before Ryan was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 sneak and Hakeem Nicks caught a 72-yard touchdown pass. That one finished 24-2 and is often portrayed not a year later as some sort of start-to-finish blowout that the Falcons were never in.

You'll note something about those three teams that beat the Falcons: They all did pretty well in the playoffs. The Packers and Giants won the Super Bowl those years, and the Cardinals made it to the big game before suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of the Steelers. When you hear talk about those teams, both now and at the time of their respective runs, it's always how they were teams of destiny who got really hot when they needed to. When we look at it from the Falcons' perspective it's never that they were beaten by three teams who were really hot; it's that the Falcons are an inferior team who can't handle playoff pressure. It seems contradictory to have it both ways.

There was a young quarterback of whom the same pithy things were said not all that long ago. Like Ryan, he had a reputation going back through college as a highly regarded leader, even if his team didn't win the national championship. Like Ryan, he started his playoff career with three consecutive losses. Like Ryan, the third in that string of losses was an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a team from New York in a game where his offense failed to put up any points. Peyton Manning's Colts lost 41-0 to the Jets that day, with Manning going 14-of-31 for 137 yards with two picks in a game where his team was "befuddled" and Manning himself was "fed his own audibles for dinner."

From that point forward, while there was no discernible difference in Manning's level of play during the regular season (short a drop in his interception rate), Manning started winning in the playoffs. The following year, Manning won two playoff games, dropping 79 points across victories over the Broncos (at home) and the Chiefs (in Arrowhead) before losing to the Patriots in his famously bad four-interception game. Of course, then the bar for Manning changed from "win a playoff game" to "beat the Patriots," without any acknowledgment that he'd conquered that previous arbitrary definition of what he needed to do to prove himself as a legitimate star. Since that 0-3 start, Manning's gone 9-7 in the playoffs, including two trips to the Super Bowl and one victory there. And if Manning's postseason record isn't enough for you, consider that Michael Jordan started his professional career by losing each of his first three playoff series with the Bulls.

A lot of why these definitions crop up has to do with the meaning we place in first impressions and the level of difficulty there is in overcoming those notions. In May, I wrote about LeBron James after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and how his incredible performance in that game was only going to be remembered if the Heat won the championship, which ended up happening. By that point, we had already decided as a sports culture that LeBron couldn't win the big one, and until he did, the deck was rigged against him. It wasn't that James merely had to pull off one impressive postseason performance; he had to pull off an entire postseason and win in the process to get that scarlet letter off his back. If LeBron had been awful in Game 6 and the Heat had lost, he would have been derided for playing so poorly in an elimination game when his team needed him the most. By playing well, all he did was push the question of his clutchness off further to Game 7, and then, to the Finals matchup against the Thunder. Despite the fact that any player of any caliber in the playoffs is far more likely to come up short of a title than to win it in a given year, guys who we already regarded as unclutch like James and Manning would need to prove themselves over and over again without slipping up even once in a playoff run. Once the tide is turned against you, it's almost impossible to overcome.

The opposite of that is true, too; once we've defined a player to possess something special in terms of his ability to win in the playoffs, he can do virtually nothing to erase those claims. The thought experiment I always pose in arguing that one is simple: Take Tom Brady's playoff career and flip it, so that he begins his career with the 2011 season and ends it with the 2001 campaign. Brady's a totally different player with a totally different career story line. He's the guy who can't win the big game, the quarterback who has the Giants stuck in his head from the start. He loses to them in the 2011 regular season and then in the Super Bowl when Manning finds Manningham. Given a second crack a few years later, he finally beats them in Week 17 to extend New England's perfect season, but the Giants come up in the clutch in the Super Bowl in a way that Brady just can't match, as the "greatest offense in league history" implodes and scores just 14 points in an embarrassing loss. You can feel the invective spewing through the Boston papers as Brady gets blown out by the Ravens in 2009 and is trampled by the Broncos in Denver in 2005. Finally, he gets his ring after seven disappointing playoff runs at the helm, but only by blowing a playoff lead to Jake Delhomme before getting bailed out when the opposing kicker boots the final kickoff of the game out of bounds. Brady goes on a nine-game playoff winning streak and shakes his playoff blues. In the real world, Brady's playoff career is pretty similar to Derek Jeter's, a guy who repeatedly won at the beginning of his career before a long stretch of mostly coming up just short. Flip it, and he's more like Jordan, a guy who had the playoff choker label slapped on him before making the whole thing look silly. Winning in the playoffs matters, but a win in the 10th year of a guy's career means just as much as one in his second year.

Once you get past the idea that there's something specifically troublesome about Ryan losing his first three playoff games as opposed to three randomly consecutive playoff games, it looks a lot less meaningful in terms of defining his skills. In addition to Peyton Manning,2 plenty of legendary NFL quarterbacks have lost three consecutive playoff games during their careers. Marino. Elway. Brady. Aikman. Even Joe Montana did it: After he won the Super Bowl in 1984, Montana lost each opening playoff game in 1985, 1986, and 1987, only to promptly go 6-0 and win consecutive Super Bowls immediately thereafter. Did Montana forget how to win in the playoffs and suddenly remember? Of course not.

There's no guarantees that Ryan will experience a turnaround in his playoff performance similar to that of Montana or Michael Jordan, of course, but there's also no evidence that his three playoff losses say very much about his likelihood of winning playoff games in the future. If your argument against Atlanta's playoff chances revolves around the idea that the Falcons are limited without a healthy Julio Jones and haven't delivered many big wins during the regular season this year, you have a fair point. If you truly believe that the Falcons aren't a legitimate contender because they haven't won a playoff game with their current core, though, you're convincing yourself that three losses against very good teams means more than Ryan's excellent body of work over 74 regular-season games. History tells us that's foolish. There's no reason to wait until an Atlanta playoff win to believe that they can compete in this year's playoffs. It has long been time to take Matt Ryan and the Falcons seriously.

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 Post subject: Re: no longer under the radar
PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2012 6:57 pm 
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Good article. Thanks for posting.

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 Post subject: Re: no longer under the radar
PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2012 8:25 pm 
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Postseason success and especially championships are overrated.

Alex Smith plays terrifically in the 49ers win over the Saints last year, but that game still comes down to the wire despite the fact that the 49ers forced 5 turnovers in that game.

Alex Smith plays horribly the following week against the Giants in the NFC Championship (1 for 13 on 3rd downs), and yet his team is still a muffed punt away from potentially winning that game.

It's a good read because it's talking about how people subjectively build narratives in their head. Narratives had a beginning, middle and end, there is some moral, magic property, or fable we're trying to tell...Something that works out perfectly. Life is not a narrative. There is a beginning, middle, and end to it, but there is often no rhyme or reason to what happens in which. It just is...

If we're building the narrative that Alex Smith managed to overcome 6 years of mediocrity to lead his team to a clutch victory, then we look at the win over the Saints and see him rising above that mediocrity to make the critical plays when it matters. When in truth, if Gregg Williams calls a different play, not leaving Malcolm Jenkins on an island against Vernon Davis late in the 4th quarter, that narrative doesn't come true.

If we're building the narrative that Alex Smith still stinks, and can't overcome his mediocrity, then we look at the Giants game, forgetting the fact that if Ted Ginn doesn't injure his knee the week before vs.the Saints, he's likely returning that punt rather than Williams, and Devin Thomas who recovers the muff isn't even on the Giants if the Panthers don't cut him 2 months before.

My point is that all of these factors are essentially random, but we as people try to apply meaning to them to fulfill whatever narrative we seek to construct to fit our own individual worldview that none of other 7 billion walking the Earth likely share...

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 Post subject: Dumbest. Argument. Ever.
PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 4:05 am 
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Y'all've (yeah, I went with that redneck contraction.) probably read this, but just in case anyone missed it:

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/869 ... cant-think

Bill Barnwell took the drunken slurs right out of my mouth.

And I'm sure I'm not bringing up anything new here, but the lack of respect for 11-1 is, at this point, batshit insane. Slap a Dallas star on the side of our helmets, and Skip Bayless and Steven Middle Initial Smith would be hailing this team as the greatest thing since contrived scenarios involving Tebow. Alas, we're Atlanta.Thus, we're relegated to watching the SportsCenter sidebar and anticipating our highlights with bated breath, only to see our tab vanish because the Jets moved to 5-7 with a back-up QB that, in the definition of pure unadultarated irony, wasn't named Tim Tebow.

Long story short: 11-1=0 respect...Tha f***???

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Last edited by one8swayze on Mon Dec 03, 2012 4:39 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Dumbest. Argument. Ever.
PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 4:34 am 
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I just read what I wote, and it was a bit rambling, so I'll ramble some more...naturally. Here's my biggest gripe: The "current era" Cowboys have had almost no playoff success, and some of the biggest playoff meltdowns in recent memory. Yet, I feel/know that if they had our exact same season (same oppoents, same record, same scores, same stats, etc...) they would lead every "sports" show every day. Why does ATL not get the same treatment?

Grinds my freakin' gears. Grinds 'em hard. :x

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 Post subject: Re: Dumbest. Argument. Ever.
PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 12:42 pm 
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First off, this article was posted elsewhere: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=17784

I'll merge the threads when I'm done posting.

Secondly, people really have to understand the nature of the beast.

The two most popular teams in this country nationwide are the Cowboys and Steelers. They have the largest respective fan bases. You can go to any city with over 100,000 people in America and likely will find at least a dozen Cowboy and Steeler fans each, residing there.

Those teams make the needle move. Television is a business, and they are in a business to maximize viewership, and thus increase their ad revenue.

You have to understand that your perception of the team is vastly different than how America as a whole perceives the team.

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 Post subject: Re: no longer under the radar
PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 4:18 pm 
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I agree with you Pudge, but it is annoying to have to listen to Cowboy's crap all the time. Matter of fact, you can expand that to the entire NFC East. I am sure Aikman must have been crying when he found out he was locked out of broadcasting the Least this weekend. :lol:

On Pittsburgh, everyone knows why they are so popular. All of their fans jumped on the bandwagon in the '70s. I bet if you asked 9 out of 10 fans if they have ever visited Pittsburgh they would say no.


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 Post subject: Re: no longer under the radar
PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 7:06 pm 
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It is annoying, I agree with you.

But the reality is that until the Falcons win a playoff game, they won't be viewed nationally as a true contender. The Texans are 11-1 as well, have won a playoff game with their backup QB, and have blown out a number of opponents. They have been "dominant" at times this year, thus they are perceived as sexier and stronger.

The Falcons OTOH don't win by large margins, nor do they score a lot of points despite having an allegedly explosive, high-powered offense. If the Falcons were putting up points like the Saints or Packers of yesteryear, or the Patriots continue to do, then they would get a lot more love. But the Falcons continue to struggle to outscore even their lesser opponents.

I think the "lackluster" play of the Falcons over the past 6 weeks is really a reason for why they are "disrespected."

I think they had an opportunity to really take a prominent role in the national consciousness in Week 9 vs. Dallas. And while they won the game and outplayed a weak Cowboys team, they did not look great. They played well offensively, but only generated 19 points. Had they won that game by scoring 30+ points, then I think their stock would have really be able to take off. Thus the story after that game was less about the Falcons flying high, but the Cowboys struggling again. The rhetoric that results from a 19-13 game is much different than that which comes from a 38-31 game. For the former, it's often two weak teams slugging it out to see who is "least weak" as opposed to the latter, where we view it as two strong teams slugging it out to see who is "strongest."

Then they lost to the Saints, and thus that killed any momentum that their unspectacular win over the Cowboys gained.

Had they bounced back and utterly destroyed the Cardinals, then the story probably could/would've been that the Saints loss was just a hiccup against a rising Saints team. But instead, the Falcons played arguably their worst game of the season, and barely survived a inept looking Cardinals team. While the Cardinals have won 4 games this year, the popular perception is more akin to them being a winless team due to the fashion they've lost their last 5 leading into that game, and has not changed in their 2 losses since.

Basically the question then becomes why did the Falcons struggle so mightily against a team that will be lucky to win a game the rest of the season? The simple answer then becomes, "Oh cuz they aren't that good."

Of course, then they survive another late game nail-biter vs. the Bucs. The Bucs were another ascending team, and if the Falcons had dominated them, and won that game by a significant margin, it would have shown that the Falcons are significantly better than a good, playoff-caliber opponent.

But again they didn't, and also subsequently, their loss to the Saints looks worse because the Saints have not continued on their upswing due to losing in recent weeks. Then they had an opportunity on Thursday night to really avenge that loss, which they did, but again they did so in a very "unsexy" fashion with an inept-looking offense that converted 1 of 11 third downs, and only managed 23 points despite being +4 on the TO margin.

The perception is that the really good teams take advantage of that. Look at games like NE-IND, SF-NYJ, CHI-TEN, NYG-CAR, NE-NYJ, where there was a large TO margin and they were blowouts. It was the same thing earlier in the year vs. DEN, where that game came down to the wire as well.

All of this paints the picture to the majority of the public and pundits that the Falcons are a good team but a large part of their success seems to be due more to luck than being great.

If the Falcons were great, then we would see several blowouts like we've seen with Houston. At least that's what the thought process is.

And thus you have a 11-1 Falcon team that is about as unsexy and underwhelming as you can find in this day and age.

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 Post subject: The Incomplete Tale of Matt Ryan
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 2:23 am 
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Interesting story about other great athletes who had trouble in the playoffs

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/869 ... cant-think

The Incomplete Tale of Matt Ryan
History has told us time and time again that judging someone by his early playoff record is a mistake
By Bill Barnwell on November 30, 2012

PRINT

Because the Falcons are the 11-1 team that nobody seems to believe in, it feels like we're all laying out a road map of the things they have to do before they deserve to be taken seriously. Never mind that the Falcons were 43-21 during Matt Ryan's professional career before this season began, which is the fifth-best record for any team over that four-year stretch. The Falcons need to beat a great team, even though they comfortably handled a Broncos team in Week 2 that we all didn't realize was quite that good. They need to win on the road, even though they blew out the Chargers by 24 in San Diego when the Ravens needed a miracle and overtime to win there by three. They needed to beat these Saints last night, in what was probably the only time an announcer declared a home game versus a 5-6 team to be a "must-win" for a 10-1 squad.1

And now, of course, the next step in our road map for the Falcons is to win a playoff game with Ryan at the helm. Since Atlanta already has a playoff spot virtually sealed up, Ryan and the Falcons are going to spend the next four weeks deflecting that same question about their legitimacy in interview after interview, something Ryan already had to do during the postgame show last night. That criticism conflates the words "haven't" and "can't." It suggests that there's something lacking about Ryan's abilities or even Atlanta's character. That both Ryan and his team truly can't be taken seriously — that they don't deserve to be taken seriously — until they beat somebody in January. I don't know that the Falcons will win the Super Bowl or even that lone playoff game this year, but impugning Ryan and his team on some sort of illegitimate-until-they-win argument is lazy. There is no next hurdle for the Falcons to cross because that's a narrative trick, not a genuine way that people win or lose football games. All it takes to realize that is a little bit of historical perspective.

Let's look a little closer at the Falcons' 0-3 postseason record with Ryan. The three losses were all in games where the Falcons were competitive through the first half, even if the game did eventually get away from them in the second. In the 2008 playoffs, they led Arizona 17-14 on the road at halftime before losing the lead on an Antrel Rolle fumble return for a touchdown, eventually losing 30-24. Two years later, they were down 21-14 to the Packers with 14 seconds left in the first half and the ball on the Green Bay 26-yard line, but Ryan took a sack and threw a pick-six to Tramon Williams that marked the final play of the half; Green Bay promptly scored on the opening drive of the second half, turning what could have been a 21-21 game into a 35-14 blowout that eventually finished 48-21. And last year, Atlanta was down 7-2 at halftime and then 10-2 in the third quarter before Ryan was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 sneak and Hakeem Nicks caught a 72-yard touchdown pass. That one finished 24-2 and is often portrayed not a year later as some sort of start-to-finish blowout that the Falcons were never in.

You'll note something about those three teams that beat the Falcons: They all did pretty well in the playoffs. The Packers and Giants won the Super Bowl those years, and the Cardinals made it to the big game before suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of the Steelers. When you hear talk about those teams, both now and at the time of their respective runs, it's always how they were teams of destiny who got really hot when they needed to. When we look at it from the Falcons' perspective it's never that they were beaten by three teams who were really hot; it's that the Falcons are an inferior team who can't handle playoff pressure. It seems contradictory to have it both ways.

There was a young quarterback of whom the same pithy things were said not all that long ago. Like Ryan, he had a reputation going back through college as a highly regarded leader, even if his team didn't win the national championship. Like Ryan, he started his playoff career with three consecutive losses. Like Ryan, the third in that string of losses was an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a team from New York in a game where his offense failed to put up any points. Peyton Manning's Colts lost 41-0 to the Jets that day, with Manning going 14-of-31 for 137 yards with two picks in a game where his team was "befuddled" and Manning himself was "fed his own audibles for dinner."

From that point forward, while there was no discernible difference in Manning's level of play during the regular season (short a drop in his interception rate), Manning started winning in the playoffs. The following year, Manning won two playoff games, dropping 79 points across victories over the Broncos (at home) and the Chiefs (in Arrowhead) before losing to the Patriots in his famously bad four-interception game. Of course, then the bar for Manning changed from "win a playoff game" to "beat the Patriots," without any acknowledgment that he'd conquered that previous arbitrary definition of what he needed to do to prove himself as a legitimate star. Since that 0-3 start, Manning's gone 9-7 in the playoffs, including two trips to the Super Bowl and one victory there. And if Manning's postseason record isn't enough for you, consider that Michael Jordan started his professional career by losing each of his first three playoff series with the Bulls.

A lot of why these definitions crop up has to do with the meaning we place in first impressions and the level of difficulty there is in overcoming those notions. In May, I wrote about LeBron James after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and how his incredible performance in that game was only going to be remembered if the Heat won the championship, which ended up happening. By that point, we had already decided as a sports culture that LeBron couldn't win the big one, and until he did, the deck was rigged against him. It wasn't that James merely had to pull off one impressive postseason performance; he had to pull off an entire postseason and win in the process to get that scarlet letter off his back. If LeBron had been awful in Game 6 and the Heat had lost, he would have been derided for playing so poorly in an elimination game when his team needed him the most. By playing well, all he did was push the question of his clutchness off further to Game 7, and then, to the Finals matchup against the Thunder. Despite the fact that any player of any caliber in the playoffs is far more likely to come up short of a title than to win it in a given year, guys who we already regarded as unclutch like James and Manning would need to prove themselves over and over again without slipping up even once in a playoff run. Once the tide is turned against you, it's almost impossible to overcome.

The opposite of that is true, too; once we've defined a player to possess something special in terms of his ability to win in the playoffs, he can do virtually nothing to erase those claims. The thought experiment I always pose in arguing that one is simple: Take Tom Brady's playoff career and flip it, so that he begins his career with the 2011 season and ends it with the 2001 campaign. Brady's a totally different player with a totally different career story line. He's the guy who can't win the big game, the quarterback who has the Giants stuck in his head from the start. He loses to them in the 2011 regular season and then in the Super Bowl when Manning finds Manningham. Given a second crack a few years later, he finally beats them in Week 17 to extend New England's perfect season, but the Giants come up in the clutch in the Super Bowl in a way that Brady just can't match, as the "greatest offense in league history" implodes and scores just 14 points in an embarrassing loss. You can feel the invective spewing through the Boston papers as Brady gets blown out by the Ravens in 2009 and is trampled by the Broncos in Denver in 2005. Finally, he gets his ring after seven disappointing playoff runs at the helm, but only by blowing a playoff lead to Jake Delhomme before getting bailed out when the opposing kicker boots the final kickoff of the game out of bounds. Brady goes on a nine-game playoff winning streak and shakes his playoff blues. In the real world, Brady's playoff career is pretty similar to Derek Jeter's, a guy who repeatedly won at the beginning of his career before a long stretch of mostly coming up just short. Flip it, and he's more like Jordan, a guy who had the playoff choker label slapped on him before making the whole thing look silly. Winning in the playoffs matters, but a win in the 10th year of a guy's career means just as much as one in his second year.

Once you get past the idea that there's something specifically troublesome about Ryan losing his first three playoff games as opposed to three randomly consecutive playoff games, it looks a lot less meaningful in terms of defining his skills. In addition to Peyton Manning,2 plenty of legendary NFL quarterbacks have lost three consecutive playoff games during their careers. Marino. Elway. Brady. Aikman. Even Joe Montana did it: After he won the Super Bowl in 1984, Montana lost each opening playoff game in 1985, 1986, and 1987, only to promptly go 6-0 and win consecutive Super Bowls immediately thereafter. Did Montana forget how to win in the playoffs and suddenly remember? Of course not.

There's no guarantees that Ryan will experience a turnaround in his playoff performance similar to that of Montana or Michael Jordan, of course, but there's also no evidence that his three playoff losses say very much about his likelihood of winning playoff games in the future. If your argument against Atlanta's playoff chances revolves around the idea that the Falcons are limited without a healthy Julio Jones and haven't delivered many big wins during the regular season this year, you have a fair point. If you truly believe that the Falcons aren't a legitimate contender because they haven't won a playoff game with their current core, though, you're convincing yourself that three losses against very good teams means more than Ryan's excellent body of work over 74 regular-season games. History tells us that's foolish. There's no reason to wait until an Atlanta playoff win to believe that they can compete in this year's playoffs. It has long been time to take Matt Ryan and the Falcons seriously.


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 Post subject: Re: no longer under the radar
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:37 am 
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This was posted before. Now merged.

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 Post subject: Re: no longer under the radar
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:04 pm 
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Sorry for the duplicate post.


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