- The Washington Times - Friday, November 6, 2009

ATLANTA | The quarterback nicknamed “Matty Ice” hasn’t been as cool or efficient in his sophomore season.

Welcome to the harsh reality of the NFL, Matt Ryan.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback has been intercepted seven times in the past three games, including three times in Monday night’s 35-27 loss at New Orleans. That performance caused the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley to question Ryan’s true potential.

“What if he’s a good NFL quarterback, but not a great in the making?” the columnist wrote.

The Redskins - Atlanta’s opponent Sunday at the Georgia Dome - would love to have a “good NFL quarterback” right now. After leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record and a surprise playoff berth last season, however, the bar has been set high for Ryan.

When Atlanta played at Dallas on Oct. 25, former Cowboys star signal-caller and current Fox analyst Troy Aikman called Ryan “one of the best young quarterbacks I’ve seen” and marveled at how the second-year player “never forces anything.”

Ryan, though, had his second consecutive two-interception game in that defeat and also lost a fumble. Maybe the former Boston College standout, taken third in the 2008 draft, isn’t so unflappable after all.

After throwing just 11 interceptions while winning NFL offensive rookie of the year honors last season, Ryan has thrown nine picks in less than half a season.

“A lot of times it’s from being competitive and wanting to make plays,” coach Mike Smith said. “I think that’s the thread that has run through the interceptions that have occurred over the last three games. Matt is very competitive and confident in himself and in his receiving corps that we can make plays.”

One of Ryan’s interceptions at New Orleans was returned for a touchdown, and another killed a drive when it appeared the Falcons were in position for a comeback victory against the unbeaten Saints.

“I’ve got to play better,” Ryan said. “As a quarterback, you’ve got to protect the football better, and I haven’t done a great job of that the last couple of weeks.”

Losses at Dallas and New Orleans gave the Falcons their first losing streak with Smith and Ryan in charge, dropping the team’s record to 4-3. Ryan had a woeful passer rating of 46.6 against the Saints - his third consecutive sub-70.0 mark.

Ryan’s overall rating is 82.4 compared with 87.7 last year; his completion percentage has dropped from 61.1 to 59.7. The Falcons, sixth in total offense a year ago, rank 17th this season.

Although Michael Turner bounced back with 151 yards at New Orleans, the Falcons’ running game hasn’t hummed as it did a year ago. And the pass protection wasn’t exactly air-tight the past two weeks; Ryan was sacked seven times.

“It’s a long season,” Ryan said. “There are going to be some ups and downs.”

Despite the quarterback’s recent struggles, tight end Tony Gonzalez marvels at Ryan’s maturity.

“You forget he’s only in his second season,” the 13-year veteran said.

Even before the Saints game, though, the interceptions had been an issue.

“Anytime you turn the football over in this league, it’s tough to come back and win the football game,” Ryan said. “That’s my focus - to be better with the football. But at the same time, you can’t lose that aggressiveness.”

The Falcons are 10-1 at home with Ryan, including 3-0 this season. Seven of his 12 touchdown passes this year have come before the home fans - and only three of his nine interceptions.

At least in the Georgia Dome, “Matty Ice” remains mostly very cool.

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