Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hit another milestone when he started his 130th regular season NFL game against the Panthers on a raucous Sunday.
Ryan has a 77-53 record (59.2 win percentage) in those 130 starts. While he’s been knocked in some corners for his 1-4 record in the playoffs, he nevertheless compares favorably with a couple future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. For those Falcons fans who know their history, there’s hope.
After his first 130 starts, Indianapolis and Denver great Peyton Manning, who open his career with a 3-13 rookie season, was 82-48 (63 win percentage). He had yet to win a Super Bowl and was considered a playoff bust with a 3-6 postseason record.
It was after his 143rd regular season game that Manning finally guided the Colts to victory over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 7, 2007.
New England’s Tom Brady, who returns from his four-game suspension this week, had a 99-31 record (76.1 percent) over his first 130 regular season starts. But Brady also already had a 14-4 playoff record and had collected his first three Super Bowl rings.
Over his first 130 games, Ryan passed for more yards (34,230) than Brady (31,596) or Manning (33,864).
Ryan’s 130th start was one for the record books. He guided the streaking Falcons over Carolina, 48-33, throwing for a franchise-record 503 yards. Ryan also had season highs in touchdown passes (four) and passer rating (142.0), the highest passer rating and completion total (28) against the Panthers in his career.
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and Ryan became the first pair of teammates in NFL history to have 500 passing yards and 300 receiving yards in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
It has been quite a ride. After being drafted third overall in 2008, Ryan helped to quickly turn around the Falcons’ fortunes, leading them to the playoffs as a rookie. In his second season, he came back from a turf-toe injury to guide the Falcons to a 9-7 mark and record the first consecutive winning seasons in franchise history.
Ryan carried the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons and drove the team to within 10 yards of the Super Bowl during the NFC championship game after the 2012 season.
But after signing $103.75 million contract in July 2013, the Falcons’ fortunes started to sag with a surprisingly quick fall with records of 4-12, 6-10 and 8-8.
Ryan has his detractors. Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre took aim at his playoff record.
“Until you win playoff games and get to the big game, that’s always going to dog you,” Favre said on Sirius XM NFL Radio after the Falcons beat New Orleans on Sept. 26. “I don’t think it’s a knock necessarily on him and him only. I think there’s a lot of reasons why they haven’t gone any further. Mainly, their defense has not matched their offense, at times.”
Ryan said he was not too concerned about Favre’s comments.
“Obviously, I have a ton of respect for Brett,” Ryan said. “He was one my idols growing up. I think he’d say the same thing: If I’m worried about that now; it doesn’t matter. I’ve always felt that you’ve got to concentrate on (the present) and not look too far down the road.”
Favre was 84-46 (64.6 percent) over his first 130 regular-season starts. He had won one Super Bowl, lost one and had a 9-5 playoff record over that period.
With just a quarter of the season complete, the Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and have a two-game lead on the rest of the NFC South. The Panthers, Saints and Bucs are all 1-3. The Falcons also jumped off to a fast start at 5-0 and 6-1 last season before finishing 8-8.
“For me, I’m not worrying about anything but getting ready to play well and play the best I can,” Ryan said. “We’ll handle all of the other stuff when that comes down the line.”
This quick start feels a little different than last year because the Falcons’ offense has been more diversified. The defense is young and finding its way.
Ryan, while he leaned on Jones against the Panthers, has moved the ball around to eight other receivers. At least eight receivers have caught a pass in each game this season.
“This is an astounding number to see, eight or nine guys catching the ball,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “It just shows you that they’ve got a good group of guys that they roll in there. … I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for who Matt Ryan is as a quarterback in this league. He’s got one of the really good arms in this league. You watch him make all of the throws.”
Another knock on Ryan has been ability to throw deep. But given proper protection, Ryan can launch it to all of the passing lanes.
“Their down-the-field explosive plays are right at the top,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Yards per completion, attempts down the field and the quarterback numbers when they are going down the field.”
Ryan, who has been selected to three Pro Bowls (2010, 2012 and 2014), has seen his offensive line stabilized by the addition of center Alex Mack. Hence, Ryan has appears more comfortable in the pocket.
Perhaps the biggest compliment to Ryan was paid by Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter, the Falcons former offensive coordinator. The Bucs had their prized quarterback prospect Jameis Winston study Ryan, Koetter sitting Winston down to watch three seasons of Ryan on film.
“I couldn’t have more respect for a player than I do for Matt,” Koetter said.