After the Atlanta Falcons rolled over the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, Matt Ryan strolled into the locker room flanked by security as he was being serenaded with chants of “M-V-P… M-V-P.”
Quarterbacks can be called a lot of things, screamed at with cries of boos and insults. Ryan was getting the ultimate compliment, and deservedly so.
Ryan had to be shaking his head. He had to be amazed, as we all are, that he has led his team to this point. He must be amused that just months after some were calling for his head they are saying he’s the best player in the NFL.
Remember how bad the environment was around the Falcons after the first week of the season? They had just lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The preseason had not gone well. There were continuing questions of whether Ryan could work with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Then things changed. The Falcons won four games in a row. They then lost two close games by a total of five points. Then, two more wins with a lot of offense. And along the way, Ryan’s offense clicked.
Just a year after the Ryan-Shanahan combo looked like oil and water, they developed an historic offense. Ryan finally had an offensive line to barricade him from head-hunters, and he had never had more receiving options than the eight or nine every week at his disposal.
Now, Ryan has a chance to make history. Every quarterback who wins a Super Bowl makes history. It’s that big. Quarterbacks are defined by Super Bowls, and Super Bowls are defined by quarterbacks.
When you see winning Super Bowl teams, you think of the quarterbacks who led them to victory. Sure, the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world make their own mark with records and stats, but the number of Super Bowl victories define their legacies.
For every Brady and Manning, there’s Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien and Jim McMahon — ordinary quarterbacks with ordinary careers who are, nonetheless, defined as “Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.”
Dan Marino was a great quarterback and had a great career. But can you have a conversation about Marino and not mention that he failed to win a Super Bowl?
Therefore, next Sunday could define Ryan. If the Falcons win, he’ll forever be labeled as a winning Super Bowl quarterback. Plus, with his pending MVP award, it will cap off a magical season.
It’s hard to imagine Ryan having a great game and the Falcons losing. Sure, both Ryan and Brady could shoot it out, going back and forth passing down the field, and then Brady has the final chance to score. That would mean Ryan’s magic would run out.
It’s unfair to put pressure on Ryan, but let’s face it. If he fails next week, the Falcons won’t win. A quarterback usually must play well for his team to win the final game of the season. The last time Atlanta was in the Super Bowl, quarterback Chris Chandler threw three interceptions. That can’t happen to Ryan.
Why would it? Ryan has been unbelievable the past few months. In Atlanta’s past six games, Ryan has thrown for 1,861 yards, 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has thrown only seven picks all season, with not more than one in any game.
He has been the best player in the league this year, and now he’ll play in its final game. Yes, the Patriots have Brady, one of the best players (like him or not) of our generation. But is there anyone else you’d rather have lead the Falcons in Houston than Ryan?
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