Fact: Matt Ryan is the most clutch quarterback in the NFL. When you look in the dictionary, you’ll see that the definition of the word “clutch” is a picture of Matt Ryan. The Atlanta Falcons have a Tom Brady in this kid.
When the Falcons are losing in the 4th quarter, they’ll always have a chance to make a comeback. When they’re tied, or losing by one possession, every Atlanta fan can bet the deed to their house that the one we call Mattie Ice will lead Atlanta down the field for a game winning or game tying drive. Matt Ryan has developed a habit of executing efficient 4th quarter comebacks throughout his career.
Matt Ryan burst onto the seem with his very first professional pass in the NFL. “His first professional pass is a 62 yard strike to Michael Jenkins! They don’t script this stuff in Hollywood Arch!” was the famous call which boomed through TV sets all across the Southeast, after Ryan delivered a touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions with his first career throw; Atlanta fans had already realized that Matt Ryan was eventually going to be a star in this league.
His first ever 4th quarter comeback was just as spectacular. In a battle of 3-2 teams, the Falcons had blown a very late 4th quarter lead against the Chicago Bears, and were down by one with just 6 seconds left: enter Mattie Ice. Ryan made an amazing throw to Michael Jenkins on the sideline, and somehow preserved a precious final second, which was enough time for Jason Elam to kick a 48 yard field goal for the win. The star of Matt Ryan was growing, as he had already helped the Falcons match their win total from the entire 2007 season (4), and had executed two game winning drives in the process (week 5 against the Packers, and week 6 against the Bears). Ryan went on to execute four total game winning drives in 2008, leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record and an unlikely playoff appearance.
The Atlanta Falcons went 13-3 and earned homefield advantage twice in the Matt Ryan era: in 2010 and 2012, and Ryan’s game winning drives were what carried the team that impressive feat both times. Mattie Ice led his team on six game winning drives in 2010, five of those being 4th quarter comebacks as well. It was clear that 2010 was going to be a magical season when Ryan led a 4th quarter drive to tie, and eventually a game winning drive in overtime to beat, the defending champion New Orleans Saints in week 3.
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The very next week, with 1:05 left on the clock, Ryan was backed up to his own 7-yard line, down by one point to the 49ers, before he proceeded to complete six of nine passes to set up Matt Bryant for a game winning field goal. “Is there any question about if Matt Ryan is a star here in Atlanta.” were the words spoken after a week 9 Thursday Night Football matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, where Matt Ryan led his team on another 4th quarter comeback and game winning drive, in the end throwing a late touchdown pass to Roddy White to win the game against fellow 2008 draft class quarterback Joe Flacco and company. Ryan also victimized the Bengals (week 7), the Packers (week 11), and the Buccaneers (week 12) with his late game heroics in this 2010 campaign.
The Mattural would somehow top this incredible 2010 season, with what he did in 2012. The first comeback of that season was arguably the most impressive in Ryan’s career. In a week 4 matchup against the division rival Carolina Panthers, Matt Ryan was starting off a final drive pinned back at his own 1-yard line with just 59 seconds left and the Falcons down by one point: Atlanta’s undefeated record was in serious jeopardy, but what happened next was truly special. Ryan proceeded to throw a 59 yard pass to Roddy White. This wasn’t one of those completions where the receiver gets the ball 13 yards downfield and then does it himself the rest of the way, this pass went 52 yards in the air: a perfect spiral right into the hands of his favorite target. From there, even the Panthers knew that Ryan would set up Matt Bryant for yet another game winning field goal: which he did with 5 seconds left. That week 4 comeback was the start of a miraculous string of four game winning drives in the next 5 games which Matt Ryan would lead the Falcons on (including three straight between weeks 4-6); victimizing the Redskins, Raiders, Cowboys, along with the Panthers in the process, while also leading Atlanta to an 8-0 record by the time that string of games had concluded. The Cardinals and Buccaneers (again) would also fall victim to Ryan’s 4th quarter comebacks and game winning drives, by the end of the regular season.
Sep 30, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) in action against the against the Carolina Panthers during the second half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps no 4th quarter comeback and game winning drive has been more important to Matt Ryan’s career than the one that happened in January, later that (post) season. In the divisional round of the playoffs the Falcons had blown a 27-7 lead to the resurgent Seahawks in the Georgia Dome, Ryan had just one last chance to avoid going 0-4 in the playoffs. After a Marshawn Lynch touchdown to give Seattle the lead, 28-27, the Falcons inherited the ball at the 28-yard line, with just 25 seconds left along with two timeouts. Falcons fans’ hearts were beating a mile a minute, but Matt Ryan had ice in his veins in what was the most important moment of his career so far. He made it look easy, completing a 22 yard pass to Harry Douglas and then a 19 yard pass to Tony Gonzalez to set up a game winning Matt Bryant 48 yard field goal, in what has become the most important drive in the Matt Ryan era thus far. In 2010 Ryan execute six game winning drives during the 13 win season, it was the seventh such drive in 2012 which has set that season apart in the minds of Falcons fans, and in Matt Ryan’s career.
The 4 win season last year was rough for our star quarterback: he was able to execute just one 4th quarter comeback and game winning drive in the entire campaign (against the Bills in 12). Yet despite that horrendous season, Ryan still leads all NFL quarterbacks in both 4th quarter comebacks and in game winning drives since 2008 (the year he was drafted). He currently has 18 comebacks, and 25 game winning drives in that time period, after his heroics against the Saints week 1 this season. Peyton Manning comes in as a close second with 16 4th quarter comebacks and 20 game winning drives, while Joe Flacco (who was also drafted in 2008) has 13 comebacks and 20 game winning drives. Tom Brady, who’s portrayed as maybe the most clutch quarterback in the league, has just 11 comebacks and 14 game winning drives since 2008. Many will point to the fact that Brady missed the entire 2008 season, and Manning the entire 2011 campaign; but was 2013 not a lost year for Matt Ryan and the Falcons, who dealt with shoddy offensive line play and many injuries to star play-makers such as Julio Jones and Roddy White?
“When you look in the dictionary, you’ll see that the definition of the word “clutch” is a picture of Matt Ryan.”
Ryan has had 25 game winning drives in his career. He’s gotten one against the Buccaneers four times, against the Panthers three times, two times each against the Packers, Bears, and Saints, and then once against 12 other teams. The division has fallen victim to Mattie Ice nine times. 13 of Ryan’s game winning drives have ended with a touchdown, and 12 with a field goal. The Boston College Product has set up Jason Elam for a game winning field goal three times; and he’s set up the other Mattie Ice, Matt Bryant, for a game winner nine times.
Numbers have no bias. Matt Ryan may not be portrayed as the clutchest of players by the media, and someone may argue otherwise when it’s said that Ryan is clutch, but all you have to do is point that person to the numbers. Numbers can’t be argued, and the numbers direct us back to the very first statement I made in this article: Matt Ryan is the most clutch quarterback in the NFL.