We’re in the dead period of football (you can read about how much I hate this period here), and with it, we don’t have much to talk about except for some speculation here and there.
I figured this would be a good time to look back on some moments in Falcons history and maybe relive them while we wait for football to come back.
That idea has given rise to a new series of “Throwback Thursday” articles I’m planning on writing throughout the dead period. Each week, we’ll relive and discuss a certain moment in this franchise’s 52-year history.
You can find last week’s Throwback Thursday article, about the 1999 NFC Championship Game, here.
I’ve spoken ad nauseam about how bad Atlanta’s situation looked following the 2007 season in these Throwback Articles. I spoke about it in the Bobby Petrino article and the Thomas Dimitroff article, among others.
There are rare occurrences in sport, however, where a team manages to entirely shift their fortunes with one pinpointed move, and that move happened for the Atlanta Falcons on April 26, 2008 — the day they drafted the quarterback out of Boston College with the third overall pick.
The 4-12 Falcons won the right to pick third over the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom had an identical record, by way of a coin toss tiebreaker.
On draft day, the Miami Dolphins, who went 1-15 in 2007 and needed a QB just as much as anybody, opted to pass on selecting Ryan in favor of star left tackle Jake Long out of Michigan. The St. Louis Rams, picking second, took defensive end Chris Long out of Virginia.
After he fell, selecting Matt Ryan wasn’t exactly a no-brainer for the Falcons. The fanbase was divided on whether to take Ryan, the best QB in the draft, or Glenn Dorsey, the stellar defensive lineman out of LSU. Some (Ahem, Dave Choate. - Ed.) argued that the Birds would be wise to take Dorsey in the first round and to look into taking a lesser QB like Chad Henne or Brian Brohm in the second round. I mean, Ryan was only slightly better than guys like Henne and Brohm anyway (I’m having to keep myself from smirking as I type that).
New general manager Thomas Dimitroff did indeed opt to use his first-ever draft selection on Matt Ryan, however, and he’s been rewarded for it.
Right from the start, it was clear to see that Ryan was special:
Led by the rookie quarterback/head coach combination of Matt Ryan and Mike Smith, along with a heroic season from running back free agent acquisition Michael Turner, the Falcons went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs when everyone expected them to be a dumpster fire in 2008.
Ryan totaled 3,440 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on his way to being named Rookie of the Year.
In 2009, the young QB led the Falcons to another winning season, despite missing the playoffs. That’s significant because the franchise had never experienced back-to-back winning seasons in its history, from 1966-2007.
In 2010, Ryan presided over a 13-3 season, which saw Atlanta earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC. His 3,705 passing yards and 28/9 TD/INT ratio would earn him Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his career.
Another 13-3 season would soon follow in 2012, and this time Ryan would also earn his first career playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round. He’d once again be named a Pro Bowler after throwing for 4,719 yards along with 32 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
After a rough two-year period in 2013 and 2014, which ended up costing Mike Smith his job, Ryan would lead the Falcons to even greater heights with Dan Quinn taking over as his new head coach. A blazing 5-0 start was a sign of things to come in 2015, even if the team collapsed down the stretch to finish 8-8.
2016 was Matt Ryan’s magnum opus as a professional quarterback. He threw for 4944 yards, 38 touchdowns (both career highs) and only seven interceptions (a career low). His 9.3 yards per attempt average led the league by a wide margin and was the highest such mark in the NFL since 2000. He set a league record by throwing a TD pass to 13 different players. His passer rating of 117.4 was the best in the NFL. His 79.4 QBR was the best in the NFL. His 8.95 net yards per passing attempt was the best in the NFL. And for all of his troubles, Matt Ryan became the first player in franchise history to be named the league’s most valuable player.
In the playoffs that year, Ryan was more lethal than ever, torching the Seahawks, Packers and Patriots for 1,014 passing yards (338 yards per game), 10 total touchdowns (nine passing and one rushing) and zero interceptions. Ryan did everything he was supposed to do to bring the Super Bowl trophy to Atlanta. His passer rating in the Super Bowl was 144.1 — the fifth-highest of all time.
In his 10 years as the face of the Falcons, Matt Ryan has led this franchise to seven winning seasons and six playoff appearances. From 1966-2007, the Birds had just 10 total winning seasons and eight playoff appearances.
Ryan has rewritten the franchise history books so much that he can be credited as a co-author. He’s thrown for the most passing yards (almost twice as many as second-placed Steve Bartkowski), most passing touchdowns (more than 100 more than second-placed Bartkowski), has the highest passer rating (among qualified candidates), lowest interception percentage (among qualified candidates), most fourth-quarter comebacks, most game-winning drives, and most wins by a QB in Falcons history.
Matt Ryan is, without debate, the greatest quarterback in Atlanta Falcons history. He is the greatest draft pick in Atlanta Falcons history, and he will likely represent the Falcons in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.
The teams who passed up on Ryan, meanwhile, have regretted that decision. The Rams ended up using the No. 1 overall selection on Sam Bradford in 2010. Of the top seven picks in that year’s draft, Bradford is the only one never to have made a Pro Bowl appearance. After an injury-filled career, he’s no longer on the Rams’ roster and landed with the Cardinals this season after stops with the Eagles and Vikings. The Rams are still looking for their first playoff win since 2004, and they just made their first playoff appearance since 2004, last season. Matt Ryan beat them on their home field in that playoff game.
The Miami Dolphins also made it to the playoffs in 2008, but that turned out to be more of an anomaly than anything else. They ended up taking QB Ryan Tannehill, who has yet to make a Pro Bowl appearance in his career, with the eighth overall pick in 2012. After dabbling between a mediocre six to eight wins for seven straight years after 2008, Miami squeaked into the playoffs again in 2016, and they made a quick exit. The Dolphins are still looking for their first playoff win since 2000. Jake Long is no longer in the NFL.
Chad Henne and Brian Brohm were both selected in the second round of the 2008 draft. As of 2018, Henne is barely hanging onto a roster spot as a backup QB, and Brohm is no longer in the league.
Glenn Dorsey proved to be mediocre to below average as a professional player, and he’s been out of the league since 2015. Dimitroff hit a grand slam with the Matt Ryan pick, and I’m convinced that that pick singlehandedly saved Atlanta from becoming an utterly obscure franchise over the past decade.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading these Throwback Thursday articles for the past number of months. I’ve enjoyed the discussion they’ve brought about, and I appreciate you for reading them.
This was the last one, as football season is finally back. As you may or may not have noticed, there wasn’t a single one of these articles which was dedicated to any moment in the Matt Ryan era, that was by design. In this upcoming offseason, I hope to write a series of “Matty Ice Moments” articles, which look back on nothing but moments in the Matt Ryan era.