FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith believes that fourth-year quarterback Matt Ryan, who became the second quarterback in team history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season, has reached elite status among NFL quarterbacks.
“His maturation process continues to accelerate and he’s becoming, in my mind, one of the elite quarterbacks in this league,” Smith said.
Ryan needs 73 yards passing against Tampa Bay on Sunday to break the franchise’s record for most yards passing in a season.
Ryan, who has passed for 4,071 yards, is set to break the record of Jeff George, who passed for 4,143 yards in 1995.
“That’d be a great honor and an individual honor for Matt,” Smith said. “But again, all those individual honors take a bunch of other guys. There are guys that have got to catch the ball and guys that have got to block. But Matt’s had a very good season.”
Ryan passed for a career-high 373 yards in the 45-16 loss to New Orleans on Monday night. He also tied his career highs with 32 completions and 52 pass attempts.
Ryan already has surpassed George in one category. He has passed for more than 300 yards six times this season, breaking George’s old record of four 300-yard games in 1995.
However, the Falcons are just 2-4 this when Ryan throws for more than 300 yards. He has thrown for more than 300 in wins over Tennessee (316) and Carolina (320) and in losses to Chicago (329), Tampa Bay (330) and New Orleans twice (351 and 373).
Ryan, who went to the Pro Bowl after guiding the Falcons to the NFC South title last season, has completed 339 of 557 passes and is within striking distance of his records of 357 completions and 571 attempts that he set last season.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog