Matt Ryan is officially in a sophomore slump

For anyone that has actually devoted some time watching Matt Ryan over the past month, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t look like a completely different quarterback than he did last year – or even at the start of this season. He bails out of plays, he overthrows receivers and he looks frightened in the pocket.

It appears that the dreaded sophomore slump has officially sacked “Matty Ice.”

During the Falcons’ 28-19 loss to the Panthers on Sunday, Ryan looked uncomfortable for most of the first half. He threw a horrible interception just before halftime that led to a Carolina touchdown, which put Atlanta behind 21-10. Then late in the game with the Falcons needing a field goal to take the lead, he again was picked off after he forced a pass downfield to a double-covered Michael Jenkins.

In both cases, Ryan not only made poor throws, but poor decisions – something that didn’t plague him last season.

Of course, Ryan had nothing to do with Jason Elam missing a chip shot field goal one possession before the critical interception. Had Elam made the field goal, the Falcons would have had the opportunity to stop Carolina and eek out a much-needed division win. Instead, Elam shanked the kick like someone with money on the Panthers and put his team in an awful situation.

Getting back to Ryan, he really has no excuse for playing as poorly as he has, because the running game has been productive (unlike earlier in the season when the passing game had to carry the Falcons). Michael Turner (nine carries, 111 yards) suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half and couldn’t return, but Jason Snelling picked up the slack in his place and Ryan just couldn’t deliver. The running game should allow Ryan to make more plays in the passing game but he just hasn’t made the throws.

The Falcons have a great opportunity to earn a Wild Card in the NFC, but they can’t do it if Ryan continues to play as poorly as he has. He needs to rekindle the magic that helped him win the Rookie of the Year Award, or second half collapse for Atlanta is certainly possible.

As for the Panthers, they’re starting to get back to what they did last year: Run the ball and play good defense. It also helps when Jake Delhomme isn’t trying to give games away by throwing the ball to the other team and generally being useless.

With this win, the Panthers have gotten back into contention for the NFC Wild Card.

Update: Turner’s injury could be serious. If he’s out for any extended length of time, the Falcons’ season could be in danger, especially considering Jerious Norwood hasn’t played in weeks due to injuries.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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