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Why Does Matt Ryan Have To Win Playoff Games By Himself?

I appeared on The Pulse Network's radio show Monday to discuss the Atlanta Falcons, which was a good time despite fearing at any moment that my voice would disappear into the ether, never to be heard again. I hate being sick.

One question stuck with me well after I hung up the phone, and it inspired this post. The question, which took the form of a bit of a fastball from my gracious host, was basically this: Is Matt Ryan developing a rep for not being able to win the big game. 

My answer was that no, that's not a concern among fans but yes, Ryan will have to start winning playoff games soon or fans and analysts are going to start to question his pedigree. If you want to quibble with me on that, be my guest, but I'll just point you in the direction of guys like Dan Marino and pre-Super Bowl Peyton Manning, two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Time and time again, they were questioned or ridiculed for not "winning the big game." Marino still deals with it. 

The more I thought about it, the more it rankled, even though it's a perfectly legitimate question asked by many. If you'll follow me after the jump, I'll explain why I think the importance attached to playoff wins for quarterbacks is crap.

Let's start with Marino, because he's the enduring example of this. I have heard people—sane, ostensibly normal people—say that Terry Bradshaw was a better quarterback than Dan Marino. That's based on the belief that Bradshaw had some mystical intangible ability that allowed his Steelers to win Super Bowls, and that he led them there. In fact, that's the basis of his Hall of Fame candidacy. This is, if you'll excuse my measured language, bullshit: 

Marino: 17 seasons, 61,361 yards, 420 TDs, 250 INTs, 59.4% competion, 86.4 rating
Bradshaw: 14 seasons, 27,989 yards, 212 TDs, 210 INTs, 51.9% completion, 70.9 rating

Now, admittedly Bradshaw played ball in a different era. Dan Marino was just coming into the league as Bradshaw was leaving it. But that said, there is simply no comparison between these two guys. Marino put a middling Dolphins team on his back. Bradshaw played game manager for one of the greatest teams of all-time. End of story. 

Now let's talk playoffs, since that's the basis of many a starry-eyed Bradshaw anecdote. 

Marino: 18 games, 4,510 yards, 32 TDs, 24 INTs, 56% competion, 77.1 rating
Bradshaw: 19 games, 3,833 yards, 30 TDs, 26 INTs, 57.2% completion, 83.3 rating

It's true that Bradshaw is the better quarterback in the playoffs, based on a similar sample size. Again, he had better pieces around him and wasn't asked to do what Marino had to do, but he was better. I'll readily acknowledge that.

What's my point here? While you can definitely say that Terry Bradshaw raised his game in the playoffs and Marino was not as good, you're talking very small sample sizes. You're talking about two drastically different teams. It strikes me as singularly unfair to elevate a quarterback who played on a better team and most assuredly was not a better quarterback in 95% of the games he played to "better" status.

In a very roundabout way, that brings us back to Ryan. By any objective sense of the word "success," Ryan has been exactly that:

Ryan: 3 seasons, 10,061 yards, 66 TDs, 34 INTs, 60.8% completion, 86.9 rating

Yet the Falcons have not won in the playoffs. Here's his stat lines in those losses:

Ryan: 2 games, 385 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs, 66.7% completion, 71.2 rating

Again, Ryan hasn't been any great shakes in the losses to Arizona and Green Bay. But it's two games. And, you know, it's not like the running game and defense were great shakes, either. A team of 63 guys and a coaching staff lost those games...not just Matt Ryan.

So while I acknowledge that Ryan is quietly developing a rep as a guy who can't win a big game, I think that's absurd. If the Falcons win a game this year, I'll be rejoicing on a lot of different levels, and this will be one of them.

What do you think, gentle readers?