The year is 2017. We’re three days from Super Bowl LI, and after a tumultuous nine-year grind, there’s a player that hasn’t been given his credit as an elite starting quarterback in this game. That quarterback, is Matt Ryan.
Coming off a dismal 2008 season in which they finished 4-12 and head coach Bobby Petrino resigned thirteen games into the season, the Atlanta Falcons selected a 6-foot-4 quarterback out of Boston College named Matt Ryan with the third overall pick in the draft. Ryan had just finished carrying his team to the ACC Championship game, winning the award for the best QB in the nation, and caught the attention of NFL teams as the one of the best prospects in the NFL draft. It wasn’t always that way though. Ryan was just a three star recruit coming out of high school and wasn’t recruited by any of the traditional powerhouse schools. He didn’t start his freshman year at Boston College, and was generally overlooked throughout a majority of his youth.
Ryan adjusted to the NFL game quickly, becoming only the second rookie QB to throw for 3,000 yards in a season, with Peyton Manning being the only other one to do so. Ryan did enough to earn the AP Rookie of the Year award, leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. While the Falcons eventually lost to the Cardinals in their wild card game, this season as a whole was a massive stepping stone for the organization. Matt Ryan had rejuvenated a stale franchise in seemingly no time, and wasn’t given the praise he deserved.
After a forgettable 2009-2010 season, Ryan put in the work to better himself each and every year. The Falcons’ QB improve statistically in all major categories over the next few seasons, and had Atlanta in the playoffs in each of the next three years. Atlanta had become one of the more dynamic offenses in the league, and a true threat to the powerhouses around the league. They were unstoppable during the regular season, but the playoffs were an entirely different story.
Ryan’s Falcons lost to the eventual NFC champion in three consecutive seasons. In 2011, Atlanta entered the playoffs with the best record in the NFC and earned a bye due to their impressive 13-3 record. They went on to get drubbed by the Green Bay Packers in the Georgia Dome by 27 points. They followed that performance in 2012 by scoring only 2 points against the New York Giants in the wild card game. 2013 was much of the same, as the San Francisco 49ers overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to beat Atlanta in the NFC conference championship and earn a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. The stigma of not coming through in the season’s biggest games started to surround Ryan and people began to define him as an excellent regular season quarterback that could never get it done in the playoffs.
As a leader, if your team loses, the blame will primarily be placed on you. Matt Ryan has been taxed by this narrative as much as anybody in recent memory… at least until now. There were fans, both Atlanta and nationwide, that had given up on Ryan. Although the Falcons have never been equipped with the most talented roster, Matt Ryan was a loser, at least in the public eye.
It’s 2017. We’re in the final days before the ultimate test for Matt Ryan. A chance to beat the Patriots and Tom Brady seems to be what he’s been fighting for his whole career. A win over Tom Brady and New England’s dynasty bolsters Ryan’s legacy and thrusts him into Hall of Fame consideration. A loss? A loss reignites the narrative that Ryan can’t win on the biggest stage.
Luckily for Falcons fans, Matt Ryan has always thrived when presented the opportunity to prove people wrong.
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