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Matty Ice Moments: Leading Atlanta to back to back winning seasons

2009 was an obscure season for the Falcons, but it was a year in which they cleared a major franchise hurdle.

Atlanta Falcons 2010 Headshots Photo by NFL via 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’s first playoff game, here.

Back to back winning seasons

It’s crazy to think about, but in their first 42 years of existence, the Atlanta Falcons never had back to back winning seasons.

Think for a moment about all of the truly great seasons the Atlanta Falcons have had between 1966 and 2007 (I know, there aren’t very many) — the first playoff appearance and playoff win in 1978; the first division title and that magical Bartkowski-led 12-4 season in 1980; the “too legit to quit” team of 1991; the Super Bowl squad of 1998; the division winning team of 2004. The Falcons followed every single one of these with a losing record the following year. It’s kind of crazy to think about.

Matt Ryan and the new regime which took over in 2008 had some past demons to exorcise when the 2009 season rolled around. Fresh off of a Rookie of the Year win and and Wild Card berth in 2008, Ryan looked to lead the Falcons to even greater heights in his sophomore season.

Unfortunately, the 2009 season was plagued with key injuries and inconsistencies which derailed the entire campaign.

Following a 4-1 start which had the fanbase thinking about another playoff appearance, and maybe even more, the Falcons lost four of their next five games to fall to 5-5.

In Week 12’s matchup against the 1-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, things went from bad to worse when Ryan suffered a turf toe injury which would sideline him for the first (and thus far only) time in his career. He left following the first series of the game and didn’t return.

While Chris Redman led Atlanta to a 20-17 win (which came down to a 4th and goal slant pass to Roddy White for a touchdown with 26 seconds remaining in the game), Ryan remained injured for the the next two games — a blowout loss against the Eagles, and a heartbreaking loss to the Saints (the outcome of which would have likely gone differently had number two been healthy).

The result was a 6-7 record when Ryan finally returned to action. At this point, the chances at a playoff spot had all but evaporated but the possibly of a winning season was still within reach.

The Falcons won a defensive struggle against the best defensive team in football, the New York Jets, the next week. Led by the flawless Darrelle Revis, the Jets stifled Ryan and Atlanta’s passing attack all game, but rookie QB Mark Sanchez couldn’t capitalize. Down 7-3 late in the fourth, Ryan put together one of his trademarked game winning drives which culminated in a 4th and goal touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez with 1:42 left to pull out a 10-7 win.

What followed were double digit wins against serial struggles the Bills and Buccaneers to achieve that 9-7 mark.

Through Michael Turner missing five games and being hobbled throughout most of the year, Matt Ryan missing two games (and in reality three since he left on the first series in Week 12), and no player contributing more than 6.0 sacks following John Abraham’s severe regression, the Falcons still found a way to achieve a second winning season in a row for the first time in franchise history.

Ryan finished the year with 2916 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions in 14 (really 13) games played. He suffered a bit of a sophomore slump which coincided with his injury.

2009 failed to live up to the lofty expectations the Falcons had going into the year, and that’s why it’s probably the most obscure season in the Matt Ryan era (it’s not the worst, but it’s probably the one people pay the least attention to anymore). Nonetheless, achieving a second winning season in succession was a major hurdle the franchise had to clear, and that’s what 2009 is remembered for more than anything.

Ryan would lead the Falcons to three more consecutive winning seasons following 2009.