Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Matt Ryan reached an impressive career milestone yesterday in a game the Falcons lost. Amid a tough loss to the Buccaneers that saw Ryan toss two touchdowns and three picks, including a pair of tipped passes for pick-sixes, Ryan blew by Drew Brees for the most passing yards through a quarterback’s first 14 seasons.
The fact that Ryan did this just two games in his 14th season tells you how good and durable he’s been over the years, the way passing numbers have opened up since Ryan entered the league and certainly since the likes of Drew Brees and Tom Brady entered the league, and how central the passing attack for the Falcons has been to their success (and lack thereof, sadly) over the years. Few quarterbacks in this league have been as consistent and as healthy over the past decade-plus than Ryan, and his numbers reflect that.
Making history.— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 19, 2021
Matt Ryan has more passing yards than any other player in their first 14 NFL seasons. pic.twitter.com/zus1bUv29L
This has been the story of the past few seasons, with Ryan’s steady production and durability ensuring that he continues to blow by the likes of Brees, John Elway, and Fran Tarkenton for both pace numbers and career numbers while he and the Falcons keep racking up losses. He’s going to pass Eli Manning for 8th on the all-time yardage leaderboard sometime this season and 9th on the all-time passing touchdowns list, and if the Falcons decide to commit to him beyond 2021 he’ll probably wind up top 5 in several categories before his time in Atlanta is over.
The problem is that Ryan’s doing all this against the backdrop of a team that is no longer good and may, if the two games we’ve just witnessed are any indicator, not be good for a while yet. More often than not, they are losing in spite of a quality day from Ryan or at least not primarily because of him, but I also understand the fatigue associated with celebrating his accomplishments when the team’s success is not following. At the moment, the clearest path to a combination of quality passing production and wins seems more likely to come from offensive line improvement and Arthur Smith adjusting his gameplan than any sudden and massive improvements from Ryan himself, especially after he mostly played well against the Buccaneers only to fall well short. Hopefully, a good day next Sunday against the Giants will be accompanied by an increasingly rare, elusive win.
Ryan is going to continue to climb the all-time passing leaderboards, especially with a 17 game season and only Tom Brady and a decaying Ben Roethlisberger as active quarterbacks on the list ahead of him. Whether he does so for an improving Falcons team or a lousy one is the central question ahead of us.