Matt Ryan: Atlanta Falcons legend, Icon, and Franchise Savior

The greatest quarterback in Atlanta Falcons’ franchise history has hung up his cleats for good
New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons / Edward M. Pio Roda/GettyImages

On April 22nd, 2024, Quarterback Matt Ryan announced his official retirement from the National Football League, nearly 16 years after the fateful day he was drafted. Matt Ryan gave his heart and soul to this football team, leaving it all on the field, and took our beloved franchise to new heights, completely turning around the trajectory of this team. Though he will unfortunately forever be remembered for Super Bowl 51, his legacy encompasses much more, solidifying him as one of the most underrated quarterbacks in NFL history.

In 2007, the Falcons were coming off a disappointing showing. They finished with just 4 wins and last place in the NFC South. They were bad enough to earn the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, and with that the rest is history. 

With the third pick, the Atlanta Falcons, of course, selected Matthew Thomas Ryan out of Boston College. Matt Ryan came into the league and started tearing it up immediately. I don’t mean that in exaggeration, he quite literally dominated the league from his very first snap. Ryan’s first-ever NFL pass was a 62-yard strike to Michael Jenkins for a touchdown. 

Ryan ended the season with 16 touchdowns (16th in the NFL) and 3,400+ yards (13th in the NFL) on his way to winning 11 games and leading the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs. His numbers were good enough for him to win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons fell short 24-30 to the Arizona Cardinals, who made the Super Bowl that season, in the first round of the playoffs.

Matt Ryan went on to have a winning record in each of the next 4 seasons, making the playoffs in 3 of those seasons, including an NFC Championship appearance. He made Atlanta Falcon’s franchise history by giving us back-to-back winning seasons for the first time EVER and he gave us 5 consecutive winning seasons. Prior to 2008 (when Matt Ryan was drafted) the Falcons had a 40.5 winning percentage. From 2008 to 2021 (Matt Ryan’s final season in Atlanta) the Falcons had a 53.3 winning percentage along with 2 NFC Championship appearances and 1 Super Bowl appearance.

In his Falcon’s tenure, Matt Ryan won 120 games, good for an average of 9 games per season. From 1968 (the year the Falcons were conceived) to 2007, the Falcons only won 9 or more games 7 times. 7 times. Matt AVERAGED that per season. Not only that but Matt broke an NFL record for MOST wins in ANY quarterback’s first 5 seasons with 56 wins. 

Matt Ryan also won the franchise’s one and only MVP. In 2016 Matt Ryan had 38 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions, led the Falcons to 11 wins and the 2nd seed in the NFC, and won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. He broke many records this year including but not limited to: being the first quarterback to throw a touchdown to 13 different wide receivers in the same season, the most yards per attempt (YPA) in a season EVER with 9.3, and the only game in NFL history to feature a 500-yard passer and 300-yard receiver in the same game.

In his entire time in Atlanta, Matt Ryan only had a top-10 defense one time. Despite this, he still dragged the Falcons to the playoffs 6 times. He took the 26th-best defense (according to points per game metrics) to the Super Bowl and nearly beat the GOAT on his way to our franchise’s first ring. Unfortunately, the game did not go our Falcon’s way, but Matt Ryan played great. He had one of the best plays in Super Bowl history in the on-the-run throw he had that hit Julio Jones on the right sideline late in the 4th quarter. Matt had the highest passer rating in Super Bowl history in that Super Bowl 51 loss, he really left all he had on the field that night.

In 2012 Joe Flacco had a memorable Cinderella run in which he took down a gauntlet of opponents en route to winning the Baltimore Ravens their second Super Bowl. This is known as one of the greatest playoff runs of all time, and in 4 games Flacco threw 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 1,140 yards (285.5 yards per game), with a 57.9% completion percentage and a 117.2 passer rating. In 2016 in 3 games Matt Ryan had: 10 total touchdowns, 0 interceptions (1 lost fumble), 1,014 yards (338 yards per game), with a 71.4% completion percentage and 135.2 passer rating. Matt Ryan’s 2016 playoff run was elite by every definition of the word elite, it is so unfortunate that it will only be remembered how it ended.

The MVP season was huge, but there are so many other NFL records and stats about Matt Ryan that most don’t know about. For example, Matt Ryan currently holds the record for most consecutive games with 200+ passing yards with 64 such games. He has the most completions in a quarterback’s first 9 years with 3,288 and the most yards too.

Now I’m going to explain some relatively niche stats that are still very impressive. Matt Ryan is only one of three quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 4,000+ yards in 6 consecutive seasons. Matt Ryan has the 3rd most touchdowns in a quarterback’s first 5 years only behind Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. Matt Ryan is one of only two quarterbacks to throw for 4,500+ yards and 25+ touchdowns, with a completion percentage higher than 66% in consecutive seasons. He is only one of five quarterbacks to have a season with 35+ touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions and one of only three quarterbacks to have multiple of such seasons. He is only one of two quarterbacks to throw for 4500+ yards in 5+ consecutive seasons. 

Ryan’s 62,792 career passing yards is good for 7th in NFL history, higher than players such as Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford. Ryan’s 381 career passing touchdowns is good for 9th in NFL history, higher than players such as Eli Manning, Russel Wilson, and Matthew Stafford. 

To put it all in perspective, from 2008 to 2021 Matt Ryan gave the Falcons 7 winning seasons (including 5 in a row, when the team had never even had back-to-back before), 2 NFC Championship appearances (the franchise only had 2 in total from 1968 to 2007), 1 Super Bowl appearance (the franchise only had 1 from 1968 to 2007), and won the franchise it’s only MVP award. 

Matt did so much for this franchise and was 15 minutes away from delivering the highly coveted Lombardi trophy. 

Next. Matt Ryan HOF. 8 reasons Matt Ryan should make the Hall of Fame. dark

Thank you for everything Matt, Atlanta will never forget you and always love you.