Matt Ryan: Journey to MVP

Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) reacts after a touchdown during the fourth quarter in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) reacts after a touchdown during the fourth quarter in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons Quarterback and the 2016 Most Valuable Player, has come a long way since entering the NFL in 2008.

Drafted with the third overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, Matt Ryan did anything but come into the league quietly. He dropped back for the first time in his NFL career, and launched a 62 yard pass to Michael Jenkins for a touchdown.

This pass not only projected Ryan deep into the hearts of Falcons fans, but also restored their faith in the franchise. After the negativity surrounding Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino, Ryan was just what the Atlanta fanbase needed.

In an amazing rookie campaign, Ryan threw for 3440 yards and 16 touchdowns with a 61.1% completion percentage, leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record. This performance earned him the 2008 Rookie of the Year award and the respect of the NFL.

Further, 2008 was also the year that “Matty Ice” made his first appearance in the NFL. In Week 6, the Chicago Bears scored a late touchdown to go up by one point with just 11 seconds remaining. However, Ryan would make a key throw down the sideline on the next possession to set up a game-winning Jason Elam field goal.

Ryan’s first playoff game came against the eventual NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals, and the Falcons put up a strong fight, but ultimately lost. However, fans were still satisfied with a fantastic season and a bright future ahead.

Unfortunately, there was a sophomore slump of sorts in his second season, only throwing for 2916 yards on a 58.3% completion percentage, but still scoring 22 touchdowns. The yardage drop off can mainly be attributed to Ryan’s injury in Week 12, causing him to miss two games with turf toe, but Ryan also lacked a consistent running game, with Michael Turner struggling with injuries and only notching four games with at least 100 rushing yards.

In spite of all these factors, the Falcons still finished with a 9-7 record, making 2008 and 2009 the first ever back to back winning seasons in Falcons history.

2010 was the year that Matty Ice really came into his own. He threw for 3705 yards and and 28 touchdowns on a 62.5% completion percentage. His clutch factor was also evident, leading the Falcons to six fourth quarter comeback wins. As a reward for his stellar play and intangible ability to lead his team to victory, Ryan was was invited to the Pro-Bowl for the first time in his career.

The Falcons also finished with a 13-3 record in 2010, a first time achievement for the franchise. Unfortunately, the determined and championship destined Green Bay Packers came into the Georgia Dome and crushed any Super Bowl or deep-playoff aspirations in the NFC Divisional round.

The following year was a milestone for Ryan, throwing for over 4000 yards for the first time in his career with 4177 yards and 29 touchdowns on a 61.3% completion percentage. He led Atlanta to a 10-6 record and another playoff appearance, but the New York Giants shut down Atlanta’s offense in the NFC Wildcard game and cruised to a Super Bowl victory.

Now, Matt Ryan was no longer the bright and plucky young quarterback. He was now perceived as the quarterback who could not win in the playoffs. However, Ryan would have a career year in 2012 and change the problematic narrative surrounding him.

Throwing for 4719 yards and 32 touchdowns on a league-best 68.6% completion percentage, Matt Ryan silenced the doubters. He earned his second trip to the Pro-Bowl and led the Falcons to a 13-3 record. Further, he was still accomplishing late game miracles.

When January came, fans and analysts were asking questions. With an unimpressive 0-3 record in playoff games thus far, would Ryan be able to finally get over the hump in 2012? Everyone doubted the Falcons, and the young and physical Seattle Seahawks seemed like a difficult opponent.

The Falcons made for a fast start in the NFC Divisional, sporting a 20-0 lead at halftime. However, the tide turned in the second half and the Seahawks found themselves up 28-27 with just 31 seconds remaining. It looked like Matt Ryan failed again; it looked like Atlanta choked again.

But, he would not let his legacy be defined by playoff struggles. Ryan stepped up, leading the Falcons down the field to give Matt Bryant a shot at a game winning field goal. Spoiler: He drilled it.

In the NFC Championship against the 49ers, Ryan played his heart out. But it wasn’t enough to secure a victory and a Super Bowl berth. Two late turnovers and Harry Douglas’ infamous falling catch instead of streaking down the sideline towards the endzone ultimately cost Atlanta the game.

2013 would offer no relief for Falcons fans, with their Dirty Birds putting together an ugly 4-12 record. Ryan still played fairly well, putting up 4515 yards and 26 touchdowns on a 67.4% completion percentage, though also throwing for a career high 17 interceptions. However, this performance should be impressive, as Ryan did it with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Steven Jackson all missing significant time due to injury.

In the following season, Ryan showed that he was still a top NFL quarterback, throwing for 4694 yards and 28 touchdowns on a 66.1% completion percentage as he made his way to his third Pro-Bowl appearance. However, the 2014 Atlanta Falcons could not offer much defensive support to their stellar quarterback, sporting a 6-10 record.

The year 2015 was the beginning of a new era for Atlanta, with freshly hired coach Dan Quinn coming in with aspirations higher than the sky, and Kyle Shanahan, alleged offensive genius, ready to unlock Ryan’s full potential.

With a promising 5-0 start, the Falcons looked to be cruising along, but they would ultimately finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Ryan was not his usual self, throwing for 4591 yards and 21 touchdowns on a 66.3% completion percentage with 16 interceptions.

However, in a highpoint of the season, the Falcons gave the previously undefeated Carolina Panthers their first loss of the season, in part thanks to an amazing pass from Ryan to Julio Jones.

This unimpressive and deflating 2015 season brought the doubters out of the woodwork. Fans were calling for a new quarterback, talking heads on sports networks were claiming that Ryan’s window for success was over, and it looked like hope was lost.

But 2016 would be Ryan’s career-defining season. He ignored the doubters and the negativity surrounding him, and destroyed opposing defenses with his iron will and cannon-like arm. Throwing for 4944 yards and 38 touchdowns on a 69.9% completion percentage, Ryan played like a legend. This performance not only earned Ryan another Pro-Bowl recognition, but a place on the AP First Team All-Pro list. He was also named the 2016 Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year.

Accolades and impressive statistics would not be the end, as Ryan led the Falcons and their absolutely lethal offense to Super Bowl LI, tearing apart the Seahawks and Packers on the way there.

The Falcons looked to also be on their way to their first ever Super Bowl victory, but the New England Patriots orchestrated an amazing comeback and won in overtime. In spite of this, Falcons fans will never forget their second ever Super Bowl appearance.

Next: Players responding positively to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian

Ryan’s amazing performance this past season made 2016 one of the most exciting years for Falcons fans in recent history, but the best could still be ahead. He’s come a long way, from a promising rookie to one of the best players in the NFL, overcoming doubters and haters through his entire journey. Let’s hope this next year is even better for Matty Ice, the best quarterback in Falcons history.