Matt Ryan’s first six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons has been filled with great success and disappointment. His numbers from the regular season to the post-season make The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seem ordinary.
Ryan has proven time and time again he has the ability to lead his team to the playoffs, but it is what he does when he gets there that has skeptics criticizing his every move.
As a rookie, Ryan completed his first ever throw to Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard touchdown. That same year Ryan led the Falcons to a 10-6 record and gave Atlanta their first playoff berth in four years.
His overall rookie season stats were respectable. Ryan threw for more than 3400 yards, completed better than sixty percent of his passes, and threw sixteen touchdowns compared to eleven interceptions.
His playoff season began that year with a road game against the Arizona Cardinals, led by future hall of famer Kurt Warner. In that game, Ryan threw for just 199 yards to go along with two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was not a major disappointment for Atlanta, as they were a playoff team for the first time since 2004 and they were led there by a rookie. But since that first loss in Arizona, Ryan has only managed an overall playoff record of 1-4.
Because of his playoff record, many believe Ryan still has a lot of work to do before he can ever be considered elite.
He has brought a new level of respectability to the Atlanta franchise in his six seasons, and has accomplished many goals as a Falcon. Through his first five seasons, Ryan had the most wins, fourth quarter comebacks, and game-winning drives of any other quarterback in that same time span. He has led Atlanta to two No. 1 seeds in the NFC and led his team to consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history (2008 and 2009).
So what does Matt Ryan have to do in order to reach the elite level of NFL quarterbacks?
First, it has to start with better performances and more wins against elite competition. In his six seasons with Atlanta, the Falcons have a combined record of 11-20 against those who went on to be playoff teams later that season. Elite quarterbacks find ways to win against the best competition. This is something that has plagued Ryan in his time with Atlanta and partially explains his playoff record as a Falcon.
Ryan’s next step in becoming an elite level quarterback has to come with protecting the football. In the regular season Ryan has been one of the league’s best in protecting the football, but in five playoff games, the Falcons quarterback has thrown seven interceptions. Ryan somehow has to find a way to carry over the positive momentum from the regular season into his playoff performances.
Matt Ryan is an excellent quarterback and has, what I feel to be, the skill-set to lead the Falcons to more championships and multiple Super Bowl appearances. Ryan is on the verge of being elite, but he has to find ways to protect the football in key situations and elevate his game against top competition. The only way to silent the critics is to simply win when it counts.