Where does the time go? Matt Ryan will be heading into his 12th season under center as the leader of the Atlanta Falcons in 2019, and it feels like just yesterday that he was drafted with the third overall pick out of Boston College.
Join us in dwelling on the past a bit, as we wait for Year 12 of the Matt Ryan era to commence. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look back at each of Ryan’s 11 seasons individually — his best game, his worst game and what we learned from each season. You can find the 2008 article here, the 2009 article here, the 2010 article here, the 2011 article here, the 2012 article here, the 2013 article here, the 2014 article here, the 2015 article here, and the 2016 article here.
Today, his 2017 season is on tap.
His best game - Week 8 vs. New York Jets
2017 was one of Matt Ryan’s weakest seasons from a statistical point of view. He had trouble meshing with first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and ended up throwing just 20 touchdown passes — the fewest in a season since his rookie year.
The Week 8 win in East Rutherford against the Jets was Ryan’s most impressive game of 2017, not because he put up prolific numbers, but because of the adversity he overcame to secure a massive win. That game was played in the middle of a rainstorm, and both Ryan and Jets QB Josh McCown had trouble handling snaps all afternoon.
Ryan nonetheless put up a very solid performance with 254 yards on 29 pass attempts, and two touchdowns (which tied a season-high) along with no interceptions. His 113.3 passer rating was also less than three points off his season high. Ryan connected with Mohamed Sanu on a clutch late touchdown to help secure a 25-20 win.
After getting off to a 3-0 start, the Falcons proceeded to drop their next three games in a row, all against AFC East opponents. Another loss to the Jets would’ve resulted in a widespread panic around the team, but Ryan kept them from falling below .500. Atlanta would eventually bounce back and win 10 games behind the strength of the defense.
His worst game - Week 14 vs. New Orleans
This Thursday night game was actually won by the Falcons — it was the one where Deion Jones intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone at the very end to secure the W (Brees was apparently practicing for the overtime interception he would throw against the Rams over a year later in the NFC Championship) — but Ryan was truly horrendous throughout the evening.
Ryan threw a season-high three interceptions — one was saved from being a pick 6 by a vicious Julio Jones tackle, one was completely Austin Hooper’s fault, and one was in the end zone. The touchdown pass he had to Sanu on third down in the fourth quarter to tie it was clutch, but Atlanta would’ve never needed to make a comeback if not for the mistakes.
In addition to the interceptions, Ryan completed a season-low 15 passes and registered a season-low 55.2 passer rating. Defensive excellence and an incredible Matt Bryant (who kicked in a 52-yard field goal to take a late lead) ended up winning Atlanta this game, the same way they ended up carrying the Falcons to the playoffs.
What we learned
We learned that Steve Sarkisian could not replicate the magic of Kyle Shanahan from a year earlier. This was once again a case of Ryan having trouble clicking with a first-year OC, and it was red zone woes especially which really hurt him and the Falcons. Those issues in the red area would end up costing Atlanta its season in the Divisional Round against Philadelphia.
However, we also learned just how lethal the Falcons could be with an actual defense. 2017 featured statistically the best defense Atlanta’s ever had in the Matt Ryan era and the result was a 10-win season and playoff victory, even with a version of Ryan which was pretty subpar by his standards. Pairing the 2017 defensive performance with the 2016 or 2018 version of Ryan would have resulted in a Super Bowl victory without a doubt in my mind.