ATLANTA -- It was the one question Matt Ryan said he never dwelled on, even after his fourth-quarter interception turbo-charged the Seattle Seahawks' furious comeback from a 20-point third-quarter deficit Sunday and put the Atlanta Falcons on the verge of another heartbreaking playoff loss:
What would have happened if Ryan had a fourth postseason meltdown instead of his vindicating 30-28 divisional-round comeback breakthrough?
"I don't have to worry about it now,'' Ryan said. "Sometimes it's good to be naïve.''
That's because Ryan finally had the answer while leading the 22nd comeback victory of his five-season career. With his team down, 28-27 and 31 seconds left, Ryan drove the Falcons 41 yards in two plays -- a 22-yard dart to receiver Harry Douglas and a 19-yard slant pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez -- to rid himself and the Falcons of the demons and the nagging postseason question.
Until his breakthrough, it was more about what Ryan hadn't done -- his 0-for-3 postseason failures outweighed his 57-22 won-lost record, best mark by a quarterback in his first five seasons in league history.
Ryan, who threw for three touchdowns and 250 yards to offset two interceptions, seems to be following a path similar to Peyton Manning, who was 0-3 with the Indianapolis Colts before his 2004 playoff breakthrough against the Denver Broncos.
Maybe it was fitting that Ryan had to get over his personal hump in the hardest fashion possible.
"It's one of those things where your past experiences harden you," Ryan said. "The one thing I've learned in my five years, and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard. It's difficult to win. It'll be nice not having to answer that question anymore. But we still have some work to do.''
Ryan said when he gathered his team in the huddle with two timeouts remaining, "everyone was confident.''
And after his completion to Douglas got the Falcons to midfield with 19 seconds left, he knew he had the Seahawks right where he wanted them. His pre-snap surveillance detected that Gonzalez would draw rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner in a favorable matchup.
"I felt good about what we had going,'' Ryan said. "Tony's been so consistent in critical situations. We had a bunch of different options, but the way the coverage shook out, I knew he'd get one-on-one with a linebacker. For him to have that game-clinching play was awesome.''
Ryan threw for three touchdowns and afterward made a point of finding Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson to tell him he has a bright future.
"I told him, 'You had an unbelievable year and unbelievable game. I'm happy for you,''' Ryan said. "It's tough being in the playoffs, one goes on, one goes home.''
The difference for the Falcons, as Ryan noted, was that, "Nobody flinched.' Least of all the quarterback who won't have to face the question anymore.
"Our goal isn't to stop answering that question," he said. "Our goal is still in front of us and we have two more games to go."