Since the turn of the century, the Falcons have underachieved, disappointed, and most importantly, failed to even reach a Super Bowl. When Michael Vick was drafted in 2001, he brought the city hope with his electric performances, leading Atlanta fans to believe the Falcons were finally on the cusp of something special. But just as fast as Vick came, he disappeared. In one of the saddest day in Atlanta sports history, in 2007, Michael Vick was arrested on several felony counts of dog-fighting. His career in Atlanta was over.
The NFL suspended Vick indefinitely, but more importantly, Vick was sentenced to a 23-month prison sentence. When Vick walked out of the Falcons’ locker room that final time, so did the Falcons playoff chances for the upcoming season. Atlanta was dreadful offensively, playing a combination of Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwitch at quarterback. The excitement of Falcons football that once ran through the city had diminished.
Atlanta’s 4-12 record landed them with the #3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. Atlanta obviously needed a quarterback, but they also had several other needs, as well as a lot of talented players to choose from. Glenn Dorsey was one those players the Falcons had their eyes on. The LSU product was absolutely dominant in college. But luckily and wisely, the Falcons passed on Dorsey and went with Matt Ryan out of Boston College. A pick that might go down as the best in Falcons history.
It did not take long for Falcons fans to be reassured that Ryan was the right pick in the draft. On Ryan’s first career drop back, he hooked up with Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard touchdown. The beginning of the Matt Ryan era had begun.
But as easy as Ryan made that 62-yard touchdown look, it was not all easy from there. Atlanta advanced to the playoffs in Ryan’s rookie season, where they lost to an Arizona Cardinals team that eventually advanced to the Super Bowl. Ryan did not perform poorly for a rookie QB in his first playoff game, but it was the losing trend that began there, that would cause critics to question his true ability. Unlike Vick, who had some of his most memorable moments in the playoffs, Ryan struggled, losing his next two playoff matchups in lopsided fashion.
The doubts surrounding whether Ryan could win in the playoffs only grew with Ryan’s performances, but in 2012 the Falcons finally broke through, beating the Seahawks 30-28 in the divisional round. While the win was terrific for the city, it only temporarily got the monkey off Matt Ryan’s back. Atlanta blew a 17 point lead in the NFC Championship the next week and would not see the playoffs again for three seasons.
Ryan perhaps had the worst season of his career in 2015. He had the worst TD/INT ratio of his career, and the criticism around Ryan, who only had one playoff win in 8 seasons, was at an all-time high. Even if the criticism was not warranted, nobody accepted the responsibilities for the team’s struggles more than Ryan. He turned the overwhelming amount of criticism into the ultimate motivation.
Dan Quinn talked all offseason about how sharp Ryan was looking in practice. Ryan was laser focused on limiting turnovers and developing a relationship with Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons also gave Ryan more help across the offensive line, something he has rarely had over his career. With this new found time in the pocket, Ryan showed the world what he was capable of. He has led one of the best offenses in NFL history and is possibly on his way to his first MVP award. His 38 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions in the regular season was the best TD/INT ratio of his career. That success has not slowed down in the playoffs either. Ryan is averaging 365 passing yards a game with 9 total touchdowns and not a single turnover in his two postseason performances.
Ryan’s 2016 season cements him as the best quarterback in Falcons history. Better than Steve Bartowski and better than Michael Vick. He even might already be the best draft pick the Falcons have ever had. While the day Vick was arrested still resonates in all Atlanta fans forever, it may have turned out to be the ultimate blessing in disguise. With the loss of Vick, the Falcons fell, and Matty Ice fell right in their lap. Matt Ryan has already become the best quarterback in Falcons franchise history, but that is a title that neither he nor the city of Atlanta cares much about. It has been over 21 years since Atlanta witnessed one of their franchises raise a trophy, and that is the title Matt Ryan wants to bring to Atlanta: Super Bowl Champions.