Perhaps Falcons head coach Mike Smith (above) bumped his head on that rollicking “Play60” school bus ride? With 2:53 remaining, trailing New Orleans 17-14 and looking at a 4th and 6 scenario on the Atlanta 43 yard line, Smith opted to punt. As you’re probably aware, he put the ball back in the hands of Drew Brees (who’d led the Saints on an 90 yard drive in their previous possession) who promptly collected a pair of first downs to put the game on ice. Hindsight might be 20/20, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Schultz has no qualms about blaming Smith thusly , “Strategy : Epic fail.”

How do you pull Ryan off the field? The quarterback has been nothing but clutch. He excels in the two-minute offense. He excells in no-huddle. Actually, a case could be made that Ryan often is better in pressure situations and in the fourth quarter than in other situations.

Also worth noting: The Falcons went into the game with the NFL™s best fourth-down percentage (84.6 percent, 11 for 13).

In September, Ryan led a comeback win at New Orleans. With the Falcons trailing 21-17 in the fourth quarter, Ryan took them on a nine-play, 85-yard touchdown drive, finishing with a 22-yard score to Roddy White to give Atlanta a 24-21 lead. The Saints rallied for a game-tying field goal, but the Falcons won the game with a field goal in overtime. It was a run-dominated, field goal drive but it was Ryan who set the tone with his calmness.

This season, Ryan has outdueled four of the league™s top quarterbacks: Brees (New Orleans), Carson Palmer (Cincinnati), Joe Flacco (Baltimore) and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay). He has the best touchdown-interception ratio (26-9) of his career. He looks ready for the postseason.

It just would™ve been nice to see him get one more chance Monday.

Despite calling Carson Palmer one of the league’s top quarterbacks, Schultz is in the right. Even Atlanta had been pinned deeper in their own territory, I’d struggle to sympathize with Smith. As it stood, Ryan was a completion or two away from putting the Falcons within range of a game-tying field goal. For a guy whose poise is routinely cited, it was awfully werid to see the ball taken out of Ryan’s hands.