Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan. That’s arguably the best foursome of quarterbacks we’ve ever seen reach Championship Sunday and yet, one of these things is not like the other.
That group boasts three Super Bowl winners (two with multiple rings), perhaps the best quarterback of all-time and probably the most talented thrower of a football the NFL has ever seen. And then there’s Ryan.
Somehow, this season’s most deserving MVP candidate is flying under the radar heading into the conference championships. You can understand why. Green Bay’s Rodgers may be having the best stretch any quarterback has ever put together.
New England’s Brady is playing in his sixth straight AFC title game and on the verge of reaching an unprecedented seventh Super Bowl. Even though Roethlisberger isn’t getting the same attention, Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell is deservedly soaking up the spotlight.
Ryan? The consensus is Atlanta’s QB has to prove himself when it matters most: in the post-season. That’s the narrative you have to constantly fight when you’ve reached only five playoff games in eight years before this season, and managed just a 1-4 record.
Sure, the Atlanta Falcons signal caller is coming off a week in which he just torched an Earl Thomasless Seattle Seahawks defence, but fair or not, Ryan’s season will likely be defined by whether or not he can match Rodgers bullet for bullet in what should be an epic shootout on Sunday night.
Everyone is wondering if Ryan has permanently thrust himself into the elite echelon of quarterbacks, or is simply having a magical one-off campaign in which everything has just come together.
After all, before this season the 31-year-old appeared to have a cemented reputation as a good, sometimes great quarterback, but you could have comfortably named 10 other players you’d rather have with the game on the line.
Matt Ryan has 14 TDs & 0 INTs in his last five. Imagine the love if he was wearing one of the other three jerseys playing this week #RiseUp— Adam Rank (@adamrank) January 18, 2017
Ryan was expected to be one of those guys when he arrived on the scene. You don’t earn the moniker ‘Matty Ice’ for no reason and Ryan’s career at Boston College showcased the clutch trait that’s so desired in quarterbacks.
It’s what made Atlanta willing to tab him as the franchise’s future by selecting him third overall in the 2008 draft. When Ryan book-ended his rookie season by becoming the first quarterback in eight years to throw a touchdown on his first pass and the only rookie with at least 26 completions in a playoff game (albeit a loss), he looked poised to compete for multiple Super Bowls.
Eight years later and Ryan hasn’t come close to matching the heights of Roethlisberger, let alone becoming the next Brady. He’s not had the same talent or coaching around him as the AFC titans, but his personal track record in big moments has been underwhelming at best.
So far this season, however, Ryan hasn’t just considerably closed the gap between himself and the elite, he’s all but eliminated it. No one put together a better statistical campaign and did so while mitigating a bottom-of-the-barrell defence.
A lot of credit for the Falcons having one of the best attacks in history should go to offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Ryan living up to everything he was once considered capable of.
The only thing separating Ryan from Brady and Rodgers now is past history and by slaying the dragon on Sunday night, he can put that to rest as well.
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