After 14 years and six playoff appearances, the Atlanta Falcons have officially ended the Matt Ryan era.
Weeks after Falcons owner Arthur Blank admitted the team needed to find a succession plan for the greatest quarterback in franchise history, Atlanta traded Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Boston College product, who went third overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, leaves the Peach State holding every major passing record in the Falcons’ long history.
As the 2016 NFC champions prepare to find their next franchise quarterback, now feels like the perfect time to rank Ryan’s best seasons with the Falcons. For this list, we factored in statistics, the team’s final finish, and the context surrounding the seasons in question.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, Ryan’s best Falcons campaigns rank as follows:
5. Welcome to the show (2008)
In hindsight, perhaps the Miami Dolphins should have used the 2008 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick on Ryan, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, instead of All-American and Michigan standout left tackle Jake Long.
We’re not joking when we say Ryan didn’t need long to shine in the NFL. His first regular-season professional pass was a 62-yard touchdown strike to veteran wideout Michael Jenkins in a victory over the Detroit Lions. Ryan ended his rookie season with a 61.1 completion percentage, 16 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions en route to winning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. Atlanta went 11-5, lost in the Wild Card Round, and began the process of officially leaving the Michael Vick era behind.
Honestly, there is an argument that Ryan’s rookie season should be higher, but we feel comfortable slotting in at No. 5. With that said, a playoff victory likely would have propelled his 2008 campaign into the top-three here.
4. Here come the Falcons (2010)
The 2010 season began an impressive three-year stretch for the Falcons, in large part because of Ryan’s steady play at quarterback. The 25-year-old tallied a 62.5 completion percentage, 3,705 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only nine interceptions en route to making his first Pro Bowl. Ryan led the Falcons to five fourth-quarter comebacks en route to winning the NFC South for the first time since 2004.
Unfortunately for Ryan, he and the No. 1-seeded Falcons matched up with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round. Rodgers threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns in the Packers’ 48-21 rout at the Georgia Dome. Although Ryan threw two interceptions in the loss, he’d at least officially began cementing himself as one of the league’s most reliable young quarterbacks.
3. The beginning of the end (2018)
After two consecutive playoff appearances, Ryan and the Falcons entered the 2018 season with high expectations. Instead, Atlanta went 7-9 and wasted a stellar season from its veteran quarterback, who completed 69.4% of his passes for 4,924 yards, 35 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
Although Ryan remained a reliable starter through the end of his time in Atlanta, that 2018 campaign really marked the last time he ranked among the league’s top signal-callers.
2. So close yet so far (2012)
The 2012 season felt like Ryan and the Falcons’ year. Atlanta went 13-3 for the second time in three seasons, and Ryan, now 27, carved through defense all season. The Boston College product posted a 68.6 completion percentage, 4,791 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, numbers which sent him to the Pro Bowl once again.
Ryan finally won a playoff game, taking down Russell Wilson and the upstart Seattle Seahawks, before falling to Colin Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. A year after his Falcons only scored two points in an NFC Wild Card Round loss to the New York Giants, Ryan fired six touchdowns against three interceptions in two playoff games during the 2012 postseason. Great things were coming, right?
Nope. Atlanta went 4-12 in 2013 and didn’t return to the postseason until 2016.
Start preparing to look away, Falcons fans.
1. From MVP to 28-3 (2016)
After three straight non-winning seasons, Ryan had enough. The veteran quarterback exploded for career-highs in completion percentage (69.9%), passing yards (4,944), and touchdowns (38) for a Falcons team that went 11-5 and won the NFC South. Ryan also threw a career-low seven interceptions, the first time since 2010 he didn’t hit double-digits.
Ryan earned 15.5 votes for Offensive Player of the Year and narrowly defeated Rodgers, who received 11 votes following a 4,428-yard, 40-touchdown season for the Packers. Of course, Ryan also earned 25 MVP votes and won the award over Tom Brady, who threw 28 touchdowns against two interceptions in 12 games for the New England Patriots. Brady’s four-game suspension for Deflategate likely cost him the award, which is ridiculous in hindsight.
Then again, Brady has always cared far more about winning the Lombardi Trophy than individual honors. Ryan and the Falcons led Brady’s Patriots 28-3 early in the third quarter of Super Bowl 51, and the city of Atlanta began preparing for a championship parade.
If only Falcons fans could have experienced a cut to black the way viewers of The Sopranos did nearly 10 years earlier.
Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes for 284 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in the Falcons’ shocking 34-28 loss. Despite the historic collapse, we would be fools not to rank Ryan’s 2016 campaign atop this list.