Here’s the understatement of the 2008 NFL season – Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is good. He, more than anyone else in pro football this season, has had the biggest impact on his team.
Think about it, a year ago the Falcons were one of the laughingstocks of the league with a 4-12 record thanks largely to the face of the franchise, quarterback Mike Vick, being arrested on dog fighting charges. Without one of the most exciting playmakers in football, the Falcons were forced to turn to stiffs like Joey Harrington and Chris Redman to run the show. Would you hand over your car keys to Harrington or Redman? Me neither.
But the Falcons had no choice. They moved forward with little to no production from their quarterback position and waited (hoped) for brighter days. Things got so grim that head coach Bobby Petrino quit on his team, walking away from Atlanta just 13 games into the 2007 season. I repeat, he walked away from millions just to get away from the Atlanta. Looking back, the ’07 Falcons probably overachieved to win four games.
But then things started to take a turn in the right direction. Thomas Dimitroff was named the general manager in January. Less than two weeks later, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coach Mike Smith was named the head coach. And most importantly, the Falcons selected Ryan out of Boston College with the third pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. That’s the exact moment things began to turn around for Atlanta. Sure, signing running back Michael Turner (formerly known as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego) was great, but Ryan is the reason the Falcons are 5-3 at the season’s midpoint.
Through the first eight games, Ryan has completed 133 out of 227 passes for 1,661 yards with a 58.6 completion percentage. He’s got nine touchdowns and five interceptions and a QB rating of 85.4. Taking those numbers, we can project Ryan to finish the 2008 season with the following statistics:
Ryan would complete 266 of 454 passes for 3,322 passing yards, along with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for the year. Here’s what some other notable quarterbacks did their rookie season:
In 1998, Peyton Manning completed 326 of 575 passes for 3,739 yards (56.7 completion percentage) with 26 touchdowns and 28 interceptions and a QB rating of 71.2.
In 2001, Tom Brady completed 264 of 413 passes for 2,843 yards (63.9 completion percentage) with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a QB rating of 86.5.
In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger completed 196 of 295 passes for 2,621 yards (66.4 completion percentage) with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and a QB rating of 98.1.
That means Matt Ryan would finish the season with more passing yards than either Brady or Roethlisberger and a higher QB rating than Manning’s rookie campaign. You can see that the touchdown and interception numbers for Ryan, Brady and Roethlisberger would be pretty much even as well. That’s why the Falcons have wins over quality teams like Green Bay and Chicago. And their three losses came against Tampa Bay, Carolina and Philadelphia (with a combined record of 17-8). That’s respectable.
And if you want to see just how much of a gamble drafting a quarterback with a top three draft pick (with all the guaranteed money involved) is so dicey, then look no further than last week’s game. The Atlanta Falcons shut out the pitiful Oakland Raiders 24-0 in a game that pitted Ryan, the top QB of the 2008 draft, against JaMarcus Russell, the top QB of 2007.
The game was such a mismatch, that Atlanta outgained the Raiders 309 to -2 in total yards in the first half. The Raiders finished the game with just three first downs and the Falcons had more passes for first downs (12) than the Raiders had net passing yards (10). It’s too early to say Russell is a bust – especially when everyone else who leaves Oakland suddenly learns how to play football again (a la Randy Moss), but JaMarcus’ struggles just go to show how uncertain drafted a franchise quarterback can be. For every Peyton Manning, there’s always a Ryan Leaf. Once again, can everyone in Atlanta thank their lucky stars for Matt Ryan?
It’s funny we mention Oakland, because just last week cornerback DeAngelo Hall made a case for the Raiders to sign Michael Vick once he is released from prison. Less than a week later, Hall was cut. Coincidence? I think not. He just made eight million dollars to play in eight games for the Raiders, so you won’t hear Hall complain too loudly, but it just goes to show you that even when you think you may have a franchise quarterback, things can change. Just mentioning Vick’s name these days can land you in NFL purgatory … or would that be Oakland?
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.