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Matty Ice Moments: Matt Ryan’s first ever division title

Ryan took a big step forward in his career in 2010, leading the Falcons to a 13-3 record and their first division title since 2004.

Divisional Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Last offseason, I wrote a series of Throwback Thursday articles looking back at some of the most memorable moments in Atlanta Falcons history. That series culminated with an article looking back at the time newly minted general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall pick. Here’s how that specific article concluded:

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.

Well, that time has come — welcome to the “Matty Ice Moments” series. This will be a series of articles dedicated to looking back on Matt Ryan-centric moments, in an attempt to help distract us from the dead period a little bit.

And if you don’t like Matt Ryan and think that we’re focusing on him too much this offseason, then that’s just too bad, I guess.

You can find last week’s article in this series, looking back on Ryan leading the team to their first ever back-to-back winning seasons, here.

2010 division title and first 13-3 run

Matt Ryan had a lot of questions to answer going into his third season. While he did have an excellent first year which culminated with a Rookie of the Year win, the young Boston College alum took somewhat of a step back in Year 2 thanks to lingering injuries to both him and star running back Michael Turner.

Ryan was under the microscope, from both the local fanbase and national media, going into 2010. He had to take that expected step forward in a quarterback’s third year, or risk falling into the pit of passer mediocrity.

Ryan took that step forward and then some — leading the Falcons to their most successful regular season since the Super Bowl year of 1998.

It all started out so poorly, too — a 15-9 overtime loss to quarterback Dennis Dixon’s Pittsburgh, where the offense failed to find the end zone. It would be one of Ryan’s rare poor starts.

Atlanta dismantled Arizona 41-7 in a statement home opener win the next week, and that set the tone for the rest of the year.

Maybe the biggest statement of the season came in Week 3, where Ryan and the Falcons beat the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the Superdome in overtime. Garrett Hartley missed a chip shot in the OT period to give Atlanta new life, and Ryan made them pay a few minutes later, silencing the Superdome.

That would be the first of a league-leading six game-winning drives orchestrated by Matt Ryan in 2010. His first of a league-leading five fourth quarter comebacks in 2010 would come the next week against the San Francisco 49ers. That comeback came in the form of a monstrous 19-play drive which culminated in a Matt Bryant game-winning field goal with six seconds left on the clock. It capped off an extended 16-0 run to give the team a 16-14 win.

The Falcons were sitting at an impressive 4-1, and were in position to absorb the loss they suffered in Philadelphia in Week 6.

The team would rattle off eight straight victories following that setback, putting themselves in position to not only win the NFC South for the first time since 2004, but also to potentially clinch home field advantage in the playoffs.

A win in Week 10 against the stifling Baltimore Ravens, which had the best record in the AFC at the time, served as the team’s signature win on the season. Ryan was brilliant in that Thursday Night game, which required another fourth quarter comeback and game-winning drive.

A Week 16 setback against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football kept Atlanta from clinching, and kept the team from potentially resting players in Week 17’s game against struggling Carolina. Atlanta was sitting on a 12-3 record.

The Birds had everything to play for in the regular season finale — a win would clinch the division and the top seed in the NFC. Jimmy Clausen and the last-placed Panthers never stood a chance.

Atlanta opened the game with a 12-play drive, which resulted in a Tony Gonzalez touchdown. Eric Weems tacked on a punt return for a touchdown later in the quarter to give the Falcons a 14-0 lead. An uneventful second quarter turned explosive on Atlanta’s final drive of the period, which was capped on with a 14-yard touchdown catch by Roddy White.

Leading 21-0 at the half, the rest of the game become more coronation than competition. Arthur Blank was on the sideline in a snazzy suit which would get drenched with Gatorade after the final whistle sounded. Ryan was eventually pulled for Redman as Mike Smith called off the dogs in a 31-10 victory.

For the first time in his career, Matt Ryan was a division-winning quarterback. Atlanta had claimed its spot at the top of the NFC South for the second time since division realignment in 2002, and the first time in six years.

Ryan had tallied a career high (up to that point) in passes attempted, completions, completion percentage, yardage, touchdowns, fewest interceptions, passer rating, and QBR. He had 3705 passing yards and a TD/INT ratio of 28/9. These numbers, and the team success, was good enough to get Matt Ryan to his first career Pro Bowl.

What happened next, against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, wasn’t pretty. Unfortunately, that game soured an incredible regular season, but this magical 13-3 run in 2010 shouldn’t just be tossed aside and forgotten about by the fanbase.

This season was a big step forward in Matt Ryan’s maturation as a quarterback, and it gave us so many wonderful memories.