As a Falcons fan, I remember the absolute thrill of seeing that first pass go for 62 yards and a touchdown. It felt like an immediate vindication of the draft, and a sign of hope for what appeared to be a franchise heading into serious rebuilding. Eleven wins later - and a near guaranteed rookie of the year award - and I, like every other Falcon fan quietly expected Ryan to embarrass the Cardinals. Then reality struck - Ryan had a sub-par game (not bad, not good) and the Falcons were dispatched out of the post-season.
2009 felt great for eliminating the stigma of never repeating consecutive winning seasons, but the lack of a playoff appearance made the season feel shallow.
Last year - we all saw how amazing Ryan could be - the GB and Baltimore games stand out in my mind - but we also saw that the playoffs are a completely different season.
All of that said, the name you often hear Ryan tagged with is Peyton Manning. So as we head into another promising season with our franchise QB, it dawned on me that some perspective might help. How did Manning do his first 4 or 5 years in the league? For those of us who follow football religiously - and realize Manning is considered to be one of the all time greats - these numbers may be somewhat eye-opening.
Season 1 - 1998 - 3-13 Record
Season 2 - 1999 - 13-3 Record - Lost in 1st game of playoffs to Titans
Season 3 - 2000 - 10-6 Record - Lost in 1st game of playoffs to Dolphins
Season 4 - 2001 - 6-10 Record (terrible defense, Manning had great season)
Season 5 - 2002 - 10-6 Record - Pummeled in wild-card by Jets
Season 6 - 2003 - 12-4 Record - FIRST playoff victory against Denver, lost to Pats in AFC Championship
By comparison, let's look at what Ryan has done so far:
Season 1 - 2008 - 11-5 Record - Lost in 1st game of playoffs to Cardinals
Season 2 - 2009 - 9-7 Record - Missed playoffs
Season 3 - 2010 - 13-3 Record - Lost in 1st game of playoffs to GB
So, all of that said, here's my question to the community: Are we as fans putting unrealistic expectations on Ryan? Considering that he's tracking BETTER than Manning did to start his career, is it fair to think that Ryan should be doing more?
I, for one, am excited by the potential of Ryan and the franchise as a whole. I do think his stellar rookie year set the expectations a little higher than they should have been - but I also believe that Ryan himself probably holds a standard much higher than any of us do for him.