Chris Chandler had a Super Bowl berth. Steve Bartkowski had the numbers, until recently. And Michael Vick was obviously the greatest talent ever to play quarterback for the Falcons. Those are names that will remain cherished ones in team history, and particularly Vick, who just hung up his cleats the other day.
There’s little question who the greatest quarterback in team history is, though. It’s Matt Ryan, and while we didn’t need tonight’s MVP award to seal that, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Many thought that Ryan was on the downslope of his career heading into this season, with some openly talking about trading him or even, hilariously, starting Matt Schaub at quarterback. Now he’s sealed up his spot in team history regardless of tomorrow’s outcome
A little history
Ryan has had to overcome expectations his entire career, which sounds insane for a #3 overall pick who was widely anticipated to be a franchise quarterback. It’s true, though.
You can start with my own dumb take on Ryan based on all the games I had watched when he was still playing at Boston College. I reasoned that the Falcons shouldn’t have taken him (go Glenn Dorsey!) because he was responsible for far too many turnovers in college and seemed to come with elite intangibles rather than elite tangibles, which made me wary.
You can move on to the collective expectations of Falcons fans, who were still desperately in love with Michael Vick after his enchanting, up-and-down run in Atlanta, which saw him put together some of the greatest plays in NFL history, an NFC Conference Championship Game run, and plenty of baffling and ultimately lousy games. Vick was the franchise savior who delivered so much to the team but couldn’t get them all the way to the Super Bowl, so it was natural that this lily white Boston College QB was going to find himself doubted initially.
To say that Ryan has delivered on his promise would undersell what he has done. He’s been good, at the very least, since the moment he arrived in Atlanta, helming a formerly sad sack team to five playoff berths and now a Super Bowl, an unheard of run of success. He’s broken every single season and career franchise record that matters, brought the team (with significant help, I’ll note) to their second championship shot, and done it all while being remarkably durable and upbeat about every situation.
I struggle with the right words here, because I don’t have the experience necessary to articulate what all this means. Great quarterbacks are for other franchises, and Super Bowl success is for teams who have earned an unrelenting parade of positive coverage and gravelly-voiced highlights in NFL Films compilations. They are not for the Atlanta Falcons, except that right now, impossibly, they are. We owe quite a bit of that to Matt Ryan, and I think the doubt that has followed him his entire career will by necessity dissipate now.
Where Ryan goes from here
To the Hall of Fame?
That might seem a little outlandish, but if Ryan has tapped into something enduring this season, it’s really not all that farfetched. This is a good, deep football team poised to add more talent to the roster in 2017, giving them another legitimate shot at the Super Bowl if everyone stays healthy. I’m not going to throw around words like “dynasty” just yet, but there’s little reason to believe the offense is going to go back in the tank without Kyle Shanahan, and as durable and effective as Ryan has been, there’s little reason to believe he won’t keep this up for at least 3-5 more seasons.
But in the here and now, there is only the Super Bowl. If Ryan can continue his high level of play for just one more game, he and this team will have officially busted through every terrible legacy, franchise-wide anchor, and dismissive comment that haunted them up to this point. Ryan’s already a league MVP, but now he just needs to be good enough for the Atlanta Falcons to win their first Lombardi Trophy, especially because his coaching staff and supporting cast have never been better.
All Ryan has to do to ensure he never buys another Sweetwater in Atlanta is pilot this team to victory tomorrow against the Patriots, which is obviously easier said than done. The franchise’s first Super Bowl victory in an MVP year for Ryan would be incredibly sweet, and it’s a testament to Ryan that I don’t doubt for a second that this can happen.
Congratulations to Ryan. Hell, congratulations to us. Whether you wear #2 or a replica jersey, we’ve all waited a very long time for this.