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 200-yard passing streak, here.
The 2016 Season
Matt Ryan was under a bit of pressure going into the 2016 season. Not in terms of job security — he was still clearly the team’s long-term quarterback — but rather from the fanbase and national media.
In 2015, the Falcons got off to a tremendous 5-0 start, but then collapsed and finished the year at 8-8. While Ryan did throw for 4,591 passing yards and lead the league in fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives, he also totaled a TD/INT ratio of 21 touchdowns against 16 interceptions, which was the worst of his career. His 3.4% touchdown percentage was a career low, while the 2.6% interception percentage he tallied was the second-highest of his career.
More than anything, as the quarterback and leader of the team, Ryan shouldered most of the blame for the team’s collapse down the stretch. In truth, he earned a lot of that blame with ill-timed interceptions and overall disappointing play within first-year offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system.
Ryan needed to show out and play better in 2016, and he did just that. Following a Week 1 defeat against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers which incited panic within the fanbase, Ryan took the Falcons on a run of four straight victories against a brutal schedule — at Oakland, at New Orleans, at defending Super Bowl champion Denver, and vs. defending NFC champion Carolina.
Sitting at 4-1, the fanbase was buzzing with hope while Ryan was sitting on 1,740 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. It had taken 17 games, but Shanahan’s offense finally clicked, on that sunny Week 2 afternoon in Oakland.
The season had its valleys, and the first serious one came in weeks 6 and 7 when a missed blatant pass interference of Julio Jones by Richard Sherman lost Atlanta a big NFC matchup in Seattle, and a second half collapse cost the Birds a home game against the Chargers. Ryan had as many interceptions in those two games as he had in the first six contests combined.
The Falcons bounced back with two statement wins — against the Packers at home, in the last minute, and a beatdown of the Buccaneers in Tampa on Thursday Night Football. The Bucs were the second-best team in the NFC South all year and were put in their place in Week 9.
Atlanta’s final regular season loss of the season came in Week 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Ryan once again felt the heat from the national media when he threw a pic 6 and then an infamous “pic 2” on a 2-point conversion attempt which ended up being decisive.
With Atlanta dropping to 7-5, some pundits immediately took Ryan out of the MVP race following that Chiefs game, despite the fact that he had 3,813 passing yards and a TD/INT ratio of 27 touchdowns against 7 interceptions at that point.
Ryan and the Falcons kicked it into another gear following that humbling defeat. They won all four of their remaining games in dominant fashion. Ryan threw for 1,131 passing yards despite being on the bench in the fourth quarter in three of those four games, and he accounted for a TD/INT ratio of 11 touchdowns against 0 interceptions.
Atlanta won every one of those final four games by at least two touchdowns except for the Week 17 game against the Saints, where they had a three-touchdown lead before pulling Ryan and allowing Drew Brees to pad his stats (a career staple of his) against prevent defense.
The Falcons finished the regular season with an 11-5 record, which was good enough for the second seed in the NFC and a bye week, thanks to an assist from the Arizona Cardinals, who beat the Seahawks in a wild and exhilarating Week 16 game to open the door for Atlanta.
Ryan finished the 2016 season with 4,944 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He led the league with a 117.1 passer rating, a 7.1% touchdown percentage, and had the highest single-season yards per attempt mark in NFL history among players who attempted at least 400 passes (9.3).
Number 2 was the general of an offense which was the highest scoring in the NFL in 2016, and the ninth-highest scoring in NFL history, at 33.8 points per game. Team success followed his individual brilliance.
Ryan was by far the best and most valuable player in the NFL in 2016, and what he did that season still feels under-appreciated.
Some people tried to argue that Aaron Rodgers should win MVP because he had two more TDs than Ryan, while the rest of his stats were worse across the board.
Some Saints fans argued that Brees should win MVP because he had 264 more passing yards than Ryan (on 139 more attempts by the way), while the rest of his stats were much worse across the board.
Cris Collinsworth, on a Sunday Night Football broadcast, openly admitted to voting for Tom Brady, who had worse stats than Ryan and missed four games due to suspension.
Fortunately, the voters looked at the numbers and actual value of each player beyond just name value, and a majority voted Matt Ryan as the 2016 NFL MVP.
Ryan got 25 votes, Brady came in second with 10 votes, Derek Carr and Ezekiel Elliott each tallied six votes, Rodgers had two votes, and for some reason somebody gave Dak Prescott an MVP vote.
2016 was Ryan’s magnum opus. He became the first Atlanta Falcon to ever win the MVP award, and it was nice to see him finally appreciated at the highest possible level.
The Matt Ryan haters were hiding under the floorboards throughout that entire season.