Either the 49ers or Matt Ryan will end a losing streak today, and the Falcons’ signal-caller will take the field as the clear favorite to do so.
The 49ers’ losing streak barely warrants discussion at this point. There are only so many ways to write ‘no matter the level of competition, the 49ers find a way to sink below it’ before it becomes redundant. San Francisco continues to play their best 30-minute football in a 60-minute league and there’s no reason to think they’ll stop with three games left on the schedule.
Meanwhile, Matt Ryan is having the best season of his career. Through 13 games, he’s thrown 30 touchdowns against 7 interceptions for 4,050 yards. This isn’t the Matt Ryan we saw in 2015, and if a trip to the playoffs isn’t motivation enough his last three meetings with the 49ers should be.
When San Francisco last took the field in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons lost the 2013 NFC Championship Game. Knocking on the door of revenge the following season, Matty Ice threw the ‘Pick at the Stick’ to Navorro Bowman, sealing San Francisco’s final victory in Candlestick Park. Even in the dark days of Tomsula's tenure, the Falcons couldn’t win as they handed Blaine Gabbert a victory in his first game as San Francisco’s starter. Wins and losses aren’t an important stat for measuring a quarterback, but those memories can’t be rosy and Ryan is poised to exorcise those demons on Sunday.
Last week, the Falcons obliterated the Rams on the road as Ryan threw three touchdowns en route to a 42-14 victory. The loss was embarrassing enough to get Jeff Fisher fired. Consider, for a moment, how often Jeff Fisher deserved to lose his job – the Falcons finally made it happen.
The absence of Julio Jones will likely be the most effective means of limiting Ryan, but it’s difficult to see this making a difference throughout the game. In the past two weeks, the 49ers have given both Josh Bellamy and Robby Anderson career days. The sad truth of the secondary is that Jimmie Ward and Rashard Robinson can’t be everywhere. Taylor Gabriel has emerged as a reliable weapon for Ryan, averaging 66 yards per game since Week 8 with 5 touchdowns in that time. With Mohamed Sanu returning from a groin injury, there are more than enough options for a quarterback like Ryan who spreads the ball effectively.
Look for bright spots and enjoy the first half. Expect good things from Buckner, watch Jimmie shine, and hope Carlos has another big day. However, this is one of the best offenses in the league against a defense that hasn’t been able to hang with anyone since Week 1.
Payback’s a bitch, and Matt Ryan has a golden opportunity to leave the field debt-free.