As the Falcons head into their 3rd playoff appearance in 4 years, one can feel the trepidation and nervousness begin to fill the air. Talk of whether Ryan can nab his first playoff win begins to dominate the football talk around town. It centers the conversation around QBs and whether fair or not, it's the ultimate judge of how successful a signal-caller really is. But, one would think that a playoff loss is a career killer based on the talk that follows. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, almost all quarterbacks who have won the big one have also started their careers with losses in the playoffs. I would contend that those losses were necessary to create a playoff-caliber QB. Follow me into this post for the reasons why.
As we go further back, you'll see that each elite QB that made it to the big dance also started with a playoff loss. Eli Manning lost against the Panthers 23-0 in his first playoff game. Big brother Peyton lost his first game 19-16 to the Titans (and didn't win his first until his 6th year in the league). Drew Brees - who didn't even make the playoffs until his fourth year in the league - lost his first playoff appearance 20-17 to the Jets. Even three time Super Bowl champ Troy Aikman lost his first playoff appearance to the Detroit Lions.
Undoubtedly, Matt Ryan will eventually be judged by his wins and losses in the post-season. But I'd argue that - until last year - Ryan didn't go through the necessary "rite of passage" that every QB has to go through to learn how to win in the post-season. Some might argue that his rookie season loss should have been that rite, but that season was almost a fluke in that no one had any expectations of the Falcons before the season. Additionally, that loss to the Cardinals - though painful - still felt like a minor victory for the resurrected franchise.
However, last year's loss to the Packers was painful for us fans, but listening to Ryan talk, it was painful for him on a level we'll never understand.
Here's the thing about pain: it's necessary for growth. As a father of three boys, I can tell you that the times they've grown the most have been accompanied by the worst growing pains. There's something about that pain that takes our body and our minds to new levels. Whether it's weight lifting - which tears our muscles - or our first educational failure - every moment of significant growth is accompanied by significant pain.
What emerges out of that is something slightly more refined - something more experienced - something stronger. And I believe that this season has shown us a more matured and hungry Matt Ryan. Even in the midst of the most sacks he's ever experienced - and some absolutely brutal hits - he's quietly put together a very good season. I'm not sure that last year's Ryan handles this season as well as he has without that brutal playoff loss. The Philadelphia game showed me a new Ryan. He was absolutely hammered and beat up in that game, and even with the cloud of a returning Vick hovering over him, he stepped up in the fourth quarter and put the team on his shoulders for the win.
So, as we head into the playoffs for the 3rd time with our franchise QB, I carry a little more confidence than I did last year or even in 2008. I believe Ryan has gone through the rite and his time to shine will be here shortly. I still have concerns about other pieces of the team - such as the disappearing running game, the porous offensive line or the extremely soft defense. But as for our QB - I believe Ryan will finally step up the way we've hoped he would. And at just 26 years old, I truly believe we are in for a career run that will include at least one Super Bowl victory.