FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is fanatical about his weekly routine.
Despite three losses in the playoffs, he plans to stick to his routine while preparing for the Seattle Seahawks, including the meals his wife, Sarah, prepares for him.
However, Ryan, who’s guarded about the most mundane details of his personal life, wouldn’t reveal what’s on the menu at the Ryan house for dinner this week.
“Not Pizza,” he said.
Spinach? Lasagna? McDouble off the Dollar Menu?
While his routine will remain the same, he hopes for a different outcome. Ryan’s playoff failures have been heavily scrutinized and well-documented.
They’ve lost while favored on the road to Arizona after the 2008 season. They’ve lost at home as the No. 1 seed to Green Bay after the 2010 season. And, they lost on the road as a slight underdog to the New York Giants after the 2011 season.
Ryan has not passed for 200 yards in any of the playoff losses. The offense collapsed in the second half against Arizona, couldn’t keep up in one-way shootout against Green Bay and was held scoreless by the Giants.
The Falcons were in all of the games before things unraveled right before halftime or shortly thereafter.
As a side note: all three of those teams have made it to the Super Bowl, and the Packers and Giants won championships.
For all of this season, Ryan has not dodged the fact that he and the Falcons face some stifling pressure – internally and externally – to have some playoff success.
“You learn from those four or five plays that changed the outcome of those games,” Ryan said. “The intensity is probably a little bit [greater]. The quicker that you can settle yourself down and start trying to execute, the better.”
Ryan enters the playoffs coming off his best season as a pro. He completed 422 of 614 passes (68.9 percent) for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns. He set franchise marks for attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns, as he guided the Falcons to a 13-3 record, the NFC South title and the NFC’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
He clearly flourished in the vertical passing scheme installed by first-year coordinator Dirk Koetter.
“We’ve proven that we can go out there and be successful,” Ryan said. “You have to buy into that. You have to believe that.”
Ryan also is confident that his receivers – four-time Pro Bowler Roddy White and first-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones – will come through for him against Seattle.
“I feel more comfortable with the guys around me,” Ryan said. “Having been in my second year with Julio Jones now adds to that confidence level. Knowing Roddy White and having played with him for 5 years and understanding him inside and out. … He understands me the same way. I think that helps.”
The Falcons don’t sense that Ryan is putting any additional pressure on his shoulders.
“He’s doing an excellent job,” White said. “He’s been mentally prepared throughout the whole season for this stretch run. He knows that we have to win a playoff game. Everybody kind of knows that.
"Not to put any extra pressure on him, but I just think that at this point in the season, everybody knows that they have to play their best football right now.”
Running back Michael Turner’s role has decreased. He’s no longer a central figure in the offense, but he still feels the playoff pressure.
“We are in the same boat he is in,” Turner said. “It’s not just Matt.”
White, who was selected in the 2005 draft, has been here for all of the playoff woes. He hasn’t detected any difference in Ryan’s approach.
“He wants to go out there and play his best football,” White said. “I don’t think that in the playoffs that we’ve given it our best shot and given ourselves a chance to win the games.”
Koetter also believes that Ryan is ready for a playoff breakthrough.
“Matt is one of the most prepared guys, if not the most prepared guy on our team,” Koetter said. “If you are prepared and do your homework and you trust your players, there is no reason to suspect that he wouldn’t go out there and play well.”
White believes things are about to change for him, Ryan and the Falcons.
“With the team that we have now, and all of the guys that have been around each other, with him leading us a group, and knowing that everybody is on the same page, it’s going to be a different outcome,” White said.
2008: Falcons lose 30-24 on road to underdog Cardinals in wild-card game, as Ryan throws for 199 yards, 2 TDs & 2 INTs; Cardinals QB Kurt Warner throws for 271 yards, 2 TDs & 1 INT
2010: Top-seeded Falcons lose 48-21 at home to Packers in divisional game, as Ryan throws for 186 yars, 1 TD & 2 INTs; Packers QB Aaron Rodgers throws for 366 yards, 3 TDs & 0 INTs, with only 5 incomplete passes
2011: Falcons fall 24-2 on road to slightly favored Giants in wild-card game, as Ryan throws for 199 yards, 0 TDs & 0 INTs; Giants QB Eli Manning throws for 277 yards, 3 TDs & 0 INTs