During his glory days, Michael Vick was the NFL’s most electrifying player, and he was so beloved in the city of Atlanta that he even achieved a local hero status in the city. Simply put: Mike Vick was a breath of fresh air. Vick was the leader of a new generation of Falcons: following in the footsteps of Deion Sanders and the original dirtybird Jamal Anderson, he sort of reminded this city of Dominique Wilkins who was tearing up the NBA with the Hawks in the 80s, fans fell in love with his exciting plays and reckless abandon. Vick was to Atlanta sports, what the band Outkast was to the hip hop seem of this great city; and because of that, there was no way some kid from Boston College could come in and follow this great act. But he could, and he did.
The chips were stacked against Matt Ryan from the moment Roger Goodell called his name in the NFL draft, to announce that the Boston College product would spend his days playing in Atlanta. Following a trying 4-12 season in 2007, which Vick spent incarcerated on charges of animal abuse, new general manager Thomas Dimitroff decided to give the franchise a fresh new face by selecting Matt Ryan with the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 draft. Not all fans welcomed Ryan with open arms, they were still clinging onto their hero, and some even had delusional hopes of Vick rejoining the Falcons after getting out of prison, and continuing the Michael Vick era. This obviously wasn’t going to happen, but the first stage of grief is denial. This just goes to show how big of a shadow the Virginia Tech product had cast on not just the Falcons, but on the entire city of Atlanta. Many experts talk about how players like Blaine Gabbert and Derek Carr were drafted into difficult situations with the Jaguars and Raiders, but Matt Ryan entered a situation more difficult than what any of these players could imagine: he had a city divided over him before he even put on the jersey.
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Fans in Atlanta fell in love with Vick because he was so electrifying. He led the team to a conference championship appearence in 2004, rushed for over 1000 yards in 2006, and had one of the most exciting plays in Falcons history when he beat the Vikings in overtime with a 47-yard run. The man out of Virginia Tech had his moments, but there was a lot of bad on the field that went with with the good. For one, he never even managed to throw for 3000 yards in his career with the Falcons (which is the staple of at least an average quarterback). Granted, he was mainly a rushing quarterback (arguably the best rushing QB of his time), evidenced by his 2006 season where he rushed for over 1000 yards, but even what Vick did best came at a cost: he was a reckless player who played all 16 games just once in his career (he didn’t earn the starting QB job right away, and thus started just 2 games in his rookie year of 2001, playing just 8); Matt Ryan meanwhile missed just two games over the first six years of his ongoing career. Vick as a pocket passer had 71 career touchdowns to 52 interceptions with the Falcons, numbers which certainly aren’t that impressive. He just wasn’t that good of a pocket passer, and an accurate quarterback is the first thing a team who wants to win a superbowl needs.
Yet despite these facts, Vick was still an icon, even after his disgraceful imprisonment; this was never more true than when Vick led his new team, the Eagles, into the Georgia Dome for his first meeting against his former team, in 2009. Number 7 wasn’t even the starting quarterback, but a sold out Georgia Dome nonetheless featured more people supporting Vick than the Falcons. It was clear the lasting impact that this one time Falcon left on the city after six years, this was Matt Ryan’s town now, but there were still so many that felt nostalgia at the fact that number 7 wasn’t running the show anymore.
Two years later, Vick again led his Eagles into the Georgia Dome for an early season showdown against the Falcons. Despite the fact that he had already made his homecoming in 2009, this was the first time the Virginia Tech product would face his former team as the starting quarterback, finally Matt Ryan would be able to legitimately face off against the man much of his city was still drooling over. The number 7’s in the stands once again came out in full force, but one woman displayed the perfect sign, it read: “Vick we miss you, but we must protect RYAN’S HOUSE!” It was an excellent game, but one which Michael Vick couldn’t finish as he got hurt (a recurring theme during his days in Atlanta), Mike Kafka, the Eagles’ backup, was pretty phenomenal in relief. The Falcons went into the 4th quarter down 31-21 but made a 4th quarter comeback, in typical Matt Ryan fashion. Ryan threw a career high four touchdowns and exercised some demons in the process. Another subplot in this story is the fact that Mattie Ice had finally beaten his hometown team.
Beating Michael Vick head on was a very important step for Matt Ryan in the process of stepping out of number 7’s shadow. The “Vick over Ryan” fans didn’t completely go away after that game, but over the years they have gradually decreased. The reason for this being that Matt Ryan has proven to be a much better quarterback than his predecessor. Let’s compare Michael Vick in his Atlanta career to Matt Ryan (we won’t take into account Matt’s numbers so far this season because Vick played six years in Atlanta while Ryan completed his 6th season last year):
Matt Ryan (2008-2013): 94 games out of 96, 23,472 passing yards (five 3000 yard seasons, three 4000 yard seasons, Falcons record in passing yards), 153 passing touchdowns (158 total touchdowns), 77 interceptions, 4 playoff appearances, 2 division titles, twice held the NFC’s best record and homefield advantage along with a first round Bye (2010 and 2012), Falcons’ record in these six years: 60-36 (this is accounting for every game, even if the quarterback was injured).
Michael Vick (2001-2006): 74 games out of 88 (started his rookie season behind Chris Chandler on the depth chart, and played in 8 games, starting just 2), 11,505 passing yards (zero 3000 yard seasons), 71 passing touchdowns (92 total touchdowns), 52 interceptions, 2 playoff appearances, 1 division title, never held the NFC’s best record and homefield advantage but once finished top 2 in the NFC and earned a first round Bye (2004), Falcons’ record in these six years: 47-48-1 (40-39-1 record since he became the full time starter in 2002).
It’s clear that Matt Ryan’s numbers in his Atlanta career have been much better than Vick’s (we didn’t even look at Vick’s fumbles), and Ryan never had any off the field issues either. Vick was explosive and electrifying, but he never generated the results that Matt Ryan has. In just six seasons at the helm, the Mattural has taken the Falcons to new heights while breaking every single major franchise passing record in the process. This was a team that never even had back to back winning seasons in franchise history before Matt Ryan came along in 2008 (this of course includes the Vick era), and now the Falcons are a legitimate playoff (and maybe superbowl) contender year in and year. Matt Ryan has not only stepped out of Michael Vick’s shadow, but he’s cast one even larger, and rightfully so. This is a magical era Falcons fans, enjoy it and Matt Ryan while you still can.