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Resilient Ryan


Mike Smith didn't want to comment on it, but he probably knew about the foot injury in question.

The question was posed to Smith Wednesday about his franchise quarterback's broken foot in college. Smith would only say what everyone knows by now — that his quarterback has a well-documented streak of toughness that is hard to rival.

"Well, we know he's a tough guy," Smith said Wednesday. "I can't speak to that (injury). I don't know if he did or not. But he's a tough guy and he took some shots in the ball game. We got him some rest today."

Ryan was limited in practice on Wednesday but appears to be recovered from the Sunday night Eagles win, a game in which he suffered four sacks and was generally knocked around all evening by a tough Philly front four. The quarterback said he still felt a little sore — typical for a Wednesday after a game. In this league, it's to be expected.

"I'm feeling better today than I was earlier in the week," Ryan said Wednesday. "That was a physical game for everybody Sunday night. It's that time of the year, you're going to take all six or seven days to get ready for the next week."

But about this broken foot in college.

The story goes that Ryan broke his foot against Virginia Tech while quarterbacking Boston College during the 2006 season. He played through the pain during the game. Afterward, he was faced with missing much of the season to rehab surgery or find a way to pull through. After a few days, Ryan realized he could throw and the decision was simple.

He played the remainder of the season and told "It wasn't going to get any worse. It was all just a matter of tolerating the pain."

After Sunday's gritty performance, playing through the sacks and engineering two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, no one can question Ryan's toughness. The Falcons, however, know they must do a better job of protecting their quarterback. The big five in front of Ryan take that responsibility personally and after Sunday they know they will improve.

"You take pride in protecting him," left tackle Sam Baker said. "When someone is getting hit like that, you take it seriously."

The Falcons don't question who their leader is. No. 2 has time after time shown he refuses to give up, despite the adverse circumstances. His teammates see it and they thrive off it. He absorbed blow after blow Sunday night, including a hit by defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins that drew a fine from the NFL this week.

Ryan didn't complain. Each time, he got himself back up and continued to work his team to a victory. He set an example for his entire team that night and showed the nation that not only is he one of the bright young stars of the league, but he's also got more guts than most.

He doesn't expect praise for it, a win is enough. But he does expect his teammates to follow his lead and always find a way to dig deep and push through.

"That's part of the deal, especially in the NFL," he said. "There's going to be weeks where you take some shots. The important thing is to keep bouncing back up and hanging in there. Not only myself but everybody's done a great job with that."

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