Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan signed a six-year, $103.75 million contract extension over the offseason, but the only prize the franchise QB got this season was his first losing record during his six-year career. (Reuters)
FLOWERY BRANCH — After guiding the Falcons to a 13-3 record in the 2012 season, setting several team records and making his second Pro Bowl appearance, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has had a bumpy ride this season.
Ryan, who signed a six-year, $103.75 million contract extension over the offseason, is ready to put his first losing season in his rearview mirror.
He’ll get that opportunity after the Falcons (4-11) play the surging Carolina Panthers (11-4) in the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
In retrospect, the Falcons’ efforts on offense were doomed from the start of training camp, when tight end Tony Gonzalez missed time on a family leave. When Julio Jones was injured and Roddy White tried to play on high ankle sprain, the unit was not in sync at the start of the season.
Couple an out-of-sync passing attack with an inexperienced offensive line and an early-season injury to running back Steven Jackson and you have a toxic elixir for a sputtering attack.
Gonzalez got off to a slow start as Jones carried the offense early. When Jones went down in the fifth game, he was on pace to catch 131 passes, which would have been the second-most all-time in NFL history. Indianapolis wide receiver Marvin Harrison set the record with 143 catches in 2002.
“Anytime that you have key guys down at different points, it always makes it tougher to overcome,” Ryan said. “I think we’ve had some young guys step up and do a pretty good job. But we haven’t found ways to win games in their absence at times.”
With the offense in a state of flux, Ryan’s numbers have suffered. He has thrown a career-high 16 interceptions this season and has only three games with a passer rating of more than 100.
Last season, Ryan set single-season franchise records for attempts (615), completions (422), completion percentage (68.6), yards (4,719) and touchdowns (32). In 2013, he has completed 411 of 611 passes (67.3 percent) for 4,235 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Ryan, by no means, wants to use the injuries as an excuse.
“In this league, there are going to be injuries, and we have to find ways to still win,” Ryan said.
Of all of the injuries, Jones going down with a foot injury was the most difficult to overcome.
“It’s tough to replace what he brings,” Ryan said. “Also, it changes how defenses play us. He’s a difficult guy to replace. He’s incredibly athletic. He’s a huge vertical threat for us, and he’s a playmaker.”
After Jones went down, the Falcons won against Tampa Bay before losing their next five games.
By the time White was healthy, the Falcons were 2-9 and eliminated from the playoffs. Over the past four games, White has 35 catches for 411 yards and one touchdown.
“There is nobody tougher than Roddy,” Ryan said. “There is nobody that wants to be out there more than him.”
Jackson missed four games after suffering a hamstring injury. He has not had a 100-yard game rushing and is set to have his streak of eight consecutive seasons rushing for 1,000 yards snapped.
“Steven is playing well,” Ryan said. “At times, we’ve been able to run the ball really efficiently, and he’s showcased what he can do consistently across the board, but for a number of different reasons, we have not been able to be as consistent as we would like to be.”
Also, Ryan has perhaps played under more duress than he’s seen over his first five seasons. His passing pocket has been shoddy, as he’s been one of the most-hit quarterbacks in the league. He’s been sacked 35 times and hit 86 times.
“I think our guys have continued to improve as the year has gone on,” Ryan said.
ETC.: Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee) and running back Jacquizz Rodgers (concussion) did not practice. … Safety Sean Baker and defensive tackle Adam Replogle were promoted from the practice squad to the active 53-man roster. They will take the roster spots created by the team placing defensive tackle Corey Peters (Achilles) and safety Zeke Motta (fractured neck) on injured reserve. The Falcons now have 11 players on injured reserve.