Round 1 of the Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco debate goes to Ryan — barely. Both Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft, and both have had almost identical, impressive starts to their careers. On Thursday night, both quarterbacks put on a show in the fourth quarter, with Ryan coming out on top. The Falcons QB was 32 of 50 for 316 yards and three touchdowns, controlling the game in the first half before winning it in the final minute. Ryan helped the Falcons convert seven third-and-five or longer situations in the first half, repeatedly keeping the Ravens defense on the field, as Atlanta built a 10-0 lead. And when the Ravens grabbed a 21-20 lead late, Ryan drove his team 80 yards in 45 seconds for the winning score. “I’m honored to have him on my team,” said Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann. “He takes control of that offense and makes it go.” Flacco, meanwhile, came to life in the second half and nearly stole the game. Flacco finished 22 for 34 for 215 yards and three touchdowns, including a dart to Todd Heap with 1:05 left, giving his team a significant, but short-lived lead. The Falcons bothered Flacco with pressure in the first half, but he was more effective on the move in the second half and was at his best in the fourth quarter — the surest sign of a franchise quarterback. It’s a shame these two don’t square off more often.
This was a timely win for the Falcons. Atlanta has a good shot at winning its division for the first time since 2004. The Falcons (7-2) have a one-game lead on the Saints and already own a win at New Orleans. Things tend to get steeper from here, however. Four of the Falcons’ next six games are away from the Georgia Dome, and the two home games are against likely playoff participants Green Bay and New Orleans. The Falcons are not nearly as fearsome on the road (2-2), and Ryan’s unfathomable 18-1 record at the Dome is going to have to come down at some point, right?
The Falcons have given themselves just a little wiggle room, however, with a win over a team that should land in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens (6-3) should be able to bounce back with games against the Panthers and Bucs the next two weeks before a critical showdown with the Steelers in Week 13.
“It’s always difficult when you play a team in their place, on their turf, with the crowd noise,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “I think being in this kind of environment this early in the season is going to pay off for us later on down the road.”