On April 26, 2008, the Atlanta Falcons made a selection in that year’s draft that would change the franchise for nearly two decades. With the third overall selection, the Falcons took quarterback Matt Ryan, who would go on to break every franchise passing franchise record and enter the top 10 in passing in NFL history.
Fast-forwarding to present day, the Falcons have traded their franchise quarterback to the Indianapolis Colts. It’s a move that allows the Falcons to now look toward the future and rebuild, and the Colts to potentially compete for a league championship. Matt Ryan, true to form, thanked the fans on his way out.
Thank you, Atlanta.— Matt Ryan (@M_Ryan02) March 23, 2022
- Matt, Sarah, Marshall and Johnny pic.twitter.com/hl0sE1o7A8
With a few days of distance from the move, The Falcoholic staff has gathered for this roundtable to bid farewell to No. 2 and share some of our favorite Ryan memories during his tenure in Atlanta.
He not only set records, he saved this franchise
It’s easy to forget the state the Falcons franchise was in after the 2007 season. Their star quarterback was headed to jail. Their gutless, spineless head coach left the team before the season had ended in the most cowardly possible way. All hopes for the franchise fell apart under the laughably bad QB trio of Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman. The team was a laughing stock that no one took seriously.
Matt Ryan reset all of that and more. To that point, it was extremely rare for rookie QBs to immediately see the field. Far less for them to be successful. Ryan not only started, he led that 2008 squad to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Ryan would win Rookie of the Year honors and start a new history for this franchise. Until Ryan, this team had never had back to back winning season. In his first four years, they made the playoffs 3 out of those 4 years and had a winning record every year.
All the while, even with fans booing him because he wasn’t Mike Vick, Ryan carried himself as a seasoned veteran. You never heard a cross word from him. He always took the blame and gave away the credit. He was the exact kind of leader this franchise needed in its most desperate hour of need.
While he holds every record there is to own for the Falcons, his most important contribution was being a true leader of this team for 14 full seasons. No stat or ranking can ever speak to that. - David Walker
Doubt becomes confidence
I wanted Glenn Dorsey. After years of Michael Vick lighting up the Georgia Dome and fresh off the hell of the 2007 season, I was not at all convinced that Matt Ryan was the right man to take over at quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons.
It didn’t take long for him to prove me wrong—that first pass was a thing of beauty—and he proved me wrong pretty consistently in the 14 years he spent in Atlanta. Ryan was the franchise’s sole MVP, an iron man who hardly missed any games, a breaker of records both major and minor, and the kind of quiet professional worth emulating. He and Julio Jones set the standard for Falcons football—Julio for a decade, Ryan for even longer—by showing up and delivering huge performances consistently without a lot of fuss. The team was never more successful than they were with Ryan at the helm of the offense, managing their first back-to-back winning seasons, multiple playoff spots, a Super Bowl and an NFC Conference Championship that brought them agonizingly close to another one.
It wasn’t all Ryan, but a lot of it was, and he kept succeeding when coaches changed and the rest of the roster warped and morphed around him. I don’t know what’s next for the Falcons—dour or hopeful, none of us do—but I do know the Falcons were good and a hell of a lot of fun thanks in large part to Ryan. He’ll leave a Falcons legend, and I expect time and distance will make it even easier to appreciate #2. - Dave Choate
This is the end of an incredibly special era in Atlanta
From the moment Matt Ryan set foot on the field and tossed his first pass as a pro — a 62-yard touchdown to wide receiver Michael Jenkins — it was clear that he was going to be special. I don’t think any of us realized at the time just how special he would be.
Two hundred and twenty-two games. Thirty-three fourth-quarter comebacks. Forty-two game-winning drives. This is the end of an incredible era of Falcons football. And I wish more than anything it hadn’t ended the way it has.
Matt Ryan was the consummate professional during his time with the Falcons. He’s an exemplary leader, someone who takes responsibility for bad outcomes and who shares the praise for good ones. He’s been consistent, reliable, and available. It’s so rare to see a quarterback miss just three games in 14 years, especially a quarterback who took as many hits as Ryan did.
Thank you, Matt, for the memories and for the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve poured into the Falcons for 14 years. We wish you and your family all the best in Indianapolis. - Jeanna Kelley
It’s going to take some time to sink in, but it’s somber feeling to know we will never see No. 2 take the field in Atlanta ever again. He was never the problem, even if some fans would love to put it all on him. The man was a constant professional on and off of the field. He never got into trouble, never embarrassed the franchise and was reliable year in and year out.
I was at Ryan’s first NFL game, which technically was on the road in Jacksonville during the preseason. I remember buying a No. 2 jersey before even seeing him play, something I haven’t done with a rookie since. I was 17 then and now I’m 31. Things change of course, but Ryan was always a constant part of my Falcons fandom. I wish only the best for the Ryan family as they embark on a new adventure in Indianapolis. – Evan Birchfield
The Legacy of a Winner
This has been mentioned above, but to fully appreciate the legacy Matt Ryan leaves behind it’s important to understand the situation he was entering. In 2008, it was very rare for a rookie quarterback to start from Day 1. Peyton Manning had done it, but he led the NFL in interceptions and Indianapolis finished with a 3-13 record that year, furthering the belief that even great quarterbacks needed to sit and learn.
Not Matt Ryan. He stepped in and found success from Day 1 for a franchise that had, to that point, never even experience back-to-back winning seasons. Ryan proved to be a winner on and off the field, shattering every Falcons’ quarterback record, winning the team’s first league MVP Award and taking Atlanta to its second-ever Super Bowl. He rarely received his full share of praise and often received more criticism than he deserved, but Ryan always composed himself with grace.
The NFL is filled with cautionary tales. High draft picks who lacked the internal motivation to succeed or ended up in poor situations they were unable to overcome. Ryan was drafted by a franchise at its lowest point with multiple black clouds hanging over it. He proved to be the massive breath of fresh air needed to clear those clouds away. The reason it felt like the Falcons had great skill position talent can, in part, be attributed to Ryan’s ability to maximize those around him - public opinion be damned.
From the very beginning of his career, Ryan was the consummate professional, competitor and leader. Most importantly, though, he was a winner. - Will McFadden
The best and most important player in franchise history
I don’t think we can ever measure just how important Matt Ryan was to the Atlanta Falcons. This franchise looked set to go down a very dark path within the wilderness of NFL irrelevance following the Mike Vick saga and Bobby Petrino fiasco, that is before Matt Ryan came in and became the savior of this organization.
Ryan immediately marshaled a franchise which never had back to back winning seasons before him to four consecutive such years, upon his arrival. He was the single biggest reason for the most successful era in team history. What’s crazy is that as good as he was on the field, he was even better off of it, never really being heard from unless it was to post videos of his adorable twin boys or to give incredibly boring press conferences, in none of which did he ever throw any teammates under the bus for any of the team’s struggles over the years. Ryan was the consummate pro and the perfect leader for a franchise which was desperate for such qualities.
The success Matt Ryan brought this franchise has resulted in a generation of kids becoming Falcons fans in Atlanta, and has resulted in the gratitude of many older fans who never saw any sustained success before his era.
Matt Ryan is the main pillar on the Mount Rushmore of Falcon greats, and he’s without question the greatest Falcon of all time, even if some fans never appreciated him while he was here. - Adnan Ikic
What are some of your favorite memories of No. 2? Share them in the comments below.