Q&A: Falcons QB Matt Ryan on Mentoring Younger Players, Late-Career Motivation

Five-time Pro Bowler and 2016 NFL Most Valuable Player Matt Ryan was named the Falcons’ starting quarterback as a rookie out of Boston College in 2008, and the 36-year-old is still going strong in Atlanta as he builds a Hall of Fame resume.

Ryan has thrown for 56,474 yards and 351 touchdowns in 208 games.

Before leaving for London, where the Falcons play the Jets on Sunday, Ryan sat down with Sports Section to talk about Atlanta’s slow start, mentoring teammates, and partnering with the NFL and Tide to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with their #TurnToCold campaign.

I know the 1-3 start for the Falcons isn’t what you envisioned before the season. When you look at the NFC South standings, how do you maintain a positive outlook?

We have 13 games to go. I always think that if you can climb back into it, you can get to .500, hang around there, get into November and December, and be in the mix. It’s about getting hot at the right time. 

We’ve got to clip off a few wins here to keep ourselves right in the center in that relevant spot, which I think we can do.

I’m optimistic because we’re a young football team that I think can make a lot of strides and improvements and be a significantly different team in December than we are right now. We’ve got to find a way to get the job done and continue to get better.

What do you most attribute to the slow start?

I think it’s consistency, you know? I really do. There have been good spots. It’s not like it’s been poor and you’re just out there and it’s just not going well. There have been some really good spots and some things we’ve done. It’s been the detail and the consistency that needs to improve. Those are things we can clean up.

Our good has been really good, we just need to do it more often. I think you do that by being consistent day-to-day and being detailed in your approach during practice and during walkthroughs.

You hold the NFL record for throwing four touchdowns with no interceptions in losses — four times. Do you look at that as a positive personally, or do the losses supersede that?

It’s tough. You want to win games. That’s the thing that’s most important to me, and there are always things — including in that game last week (a 34-30 loss to Washington) — I could have done better. You’re always looking to improve and trying to help the team win and do your part.

At the same time, I think there is a pride of wanting to be out there and wanting to play well for my team and give ourselves a chance to win. I work hard to try and do that every week, so I’m proud of that part of it, but ultimately it’s about winning games.

Will winning a championship seal your legacy as a Hall of Fame QB?

It’s about winning, and it’s about a championship, and I think that, right or wrong, with the position we play there’s a lot that comes along with it, which is different from other positions.

But it is the motivation. I’ve been close before and fell short, so I’d love to get another shot at it and get a ring. 

Do you use the 2017 Super Bowl loss to the Patriots — where you were a play or two from winning — as motivation?

Yeah, I do. If you don’t use that negative experience and turn it into a positive, then it’s a wasted experience. There’s a lot that I learned from that experience, knowing you were prepared and ready to go and did some really good things in the most critical situation — the biggest stage, the biggest game — that we have.  

It is great motivation for me, that experience of wanting to get back there, wanting to finish the job and hoist the trophy. 

You take on the Jets in London on Sunday. What do you expect from their defense?

I think they’re improved. They played well last week, and it’s a similar team to us where it’s a new staff, young team, you see constant improvement, week in and week out. It’s a defense that’s trending in the right direction.

At 36 on a young team, how big a role do you play in mentoring teammates?

You really try to set a good example with how you work and with your attitude, and just your routine of what time you’re getting in there, how you’re working while you’re in there, and doing it with the right attitude.

You don’t want them to make all the same mistakes that you made, right? Or the guys that you played with made. So you try and teach them from other people’s experience and hope that it seeps in.

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to make mistakes for yourself, but it’s about trying to pass those messages along with anecdotes and experiences that I’ve had throughout my career.

How did you become involved with Tide and the #TurnToCold initiative?

It started with my nickname, “Matty Ice.” The whole part of the campaign was about turning to cold-water washing. Tide started with Ice-T and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and then partnered with the NFL. I’ve had the nickname since I was 14, so it finally paid off and worked out for something.

I got to shoot a commercial with those guys this summer, which was really cool. It was a great experience to meet them — one of the highlights of my summer.

But it’s also a really good initiative. Switching to cold-water washing reduces emissions, uses less energy, and saves people money. And when you use Tide products, it cleans just as well as any other brand hot.

It’s really a no-brainer: good for the planet, good for your wallet, and an easy change to make. I’m happy to be a part of it. 

We’ve got twin boys who are three-and-a-half, so our washing machine is constantly running, whether it’s with sheets or clothes or whatever. Any little thing we can do that can save a little bit of money and at the same time is good for the environment is a thumbs-up.

Where’d you get the “Matty Ice” nickname?

I got it my freshman year of high school with my buddies at the time. It just stuck for no other reason, really, than they thought it sounded cool. 

Then I was at BC and nobody knew my nickname, and one of my buddies from high school came up — that’s all he called me, so my college guys liked it, too, and it’s still here. 

Why is it important for you to use your platform to send good messages to people?

That’s part of it, right? To whom much is given, much is expected. I feel like I’ve been really fortunate in my life to be in the position that I’m in.

A little bit of effort on your part can make a world of difference, whether it’s for something like this that’s good for the environment or other initiatives that I’ve done in the past. I feel like you can make an impact, and that part of it is something that I find to be important.

What do you like to do when you’re not on the field or chasing your twins around?

I love to play golf. During the offseason, it’s a good escape for me. A couple of hours to put the phone away, go play with some buddies, sometimes win a little money, sometimes lose a little money — it’s always a good time. So that’s probably my biggest hobby off the field.

When you look back to when you were a rookie, do you marvel at how things have changed during your career?

Yeah, it’s crazy. When I first came into the league, Jason Elam was our kicker, and he was like 43 or something at the time. I remember walking into the locker room — and I’ll never forget it — and he had these shorts and shoes on, and I was like, “Oh my God, this guy is dressed like my dad. He’s literally wearing the same stuff my dad wears.” 

And now I’m that guy when the young guys walk in. It’s amazing how quickly it goes. It really does go by quickly. I feel like I was just drafted yesterday, and it’s been 14 years. It’s a blink of an eye, but I’m happy to still be here — and to have been with one organization for this long has been amazing.

Chris Kuc is a sportswriter who covered a myriad of sports during his career with the Chicago Tribune, The Athletic, and the Chicago Blackhawks before joining Sports Section. You can reach out to Chris at Chris.Kuc@thesportssection.com or on Twitter: @ChrisKuc.