The 34-3 divisional blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers was one of the most painful games to watch for Falcons fans this season. Just as depressing of a subplot was the image of Matt Ryan trying to stand as everyone around him crumbled (figuratively speaking of course). This image is a microcosm of what has happened the past two seasons in Atlanta: Matt Ryan doing everything in his power to try and win, but the pieces around him failing to deliver. The Atlanta QB has become the modern day tragic hero of the NFL.
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Now this isn’t to say that Matt Ryan has been absolutely perfect; he has thrown his fair share of bad interceptions this season, a lot of which have been taken back for defensive touchdowns, but the good he’s done far outweighs the bad. 4,694 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 28/12 is excellent and good enough for the playoffs. Ryan’s numbers are superior to fellow 2008 NFL Draft QB Joe Flacco (who also has a far superior offensive line): 3,986 yards 27 TDs and 12 INTs. Flacco’s Ravens finished the season 10-6 and in the playoffs, while Ryan’s Falcons are 6-10 and out, the difference has been the supporting cast.
The Atlanta Falcons rank dead last in defensive yards given up, and haven’t had much of a run game. Meanwhile the offensive line has been banged up, having lost 4 starters and immediate backups early in the season. The offensive line has been better than expected for a group featuring a struggling rookie and two undrafted free agents (great work by coach Tice), but there were times where inexperience reared its ugly head, and it didn’t get much vulgar than the six sacks given up against Carolina. Matt Ryan’s interceptions were bad, but they were a result of forced throws which were made in an attempt to get Atlanta back into the game, while Ryan was under pressure.
The dictionary definition of a tragic hero is “a great or virtuous character in a dramatic tragedy who is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat” Other definitions consist of the hero having to go on a journey, or having a fatal flaw resulting in said downfall. Ryan’s main flaw this season has been the players around him: a defense which has forced him to play from behind, and an offensive line which has forced him to navigate rough waters at times this season (the only reason they didn’t give up a sack to the Saints was because Ryan got rid of the ball so quickly). His journey has been one for the Lombardi trophy, and he has suffered defeat because of the fatal flaw. In the end, Matt Ryan was always destined for failure with this supporting cast.
In a way, Matt Ryan can be compared Oedipus, a tragic hero from Greek Mythology. The comparison is obviously to a lesser extent than what happened to mythological character, but the reason that I make it is because the downfall of both Ryan and Oedipus happened because of factors that were out of the realm of their control. Watching Ryan put under pressure, and getting up from a sack to just inevitably get pulled down again all throughout this week 17 game was just a reminder of that.
As that haunting image of everything crumbling around our quarterback as he tries to unsuccessfully stand tall emulates, people need to be reminded that: in the end, this season, Matt Ryan didn’t fail the Falcons, the Falcons failed Matt Ryan.