Before you pre-judge Ryan, look at NFL’s ‘Final 4′ QBs

Jay Cutler was a "knucklehead."

Jay Cutler was a "knucklehead."

Aaron Rodgers "couldn't win big one."

Aaron Rodgers "couldn't win big one."

It has been amusing the past few days as I’ve sorted through comments and emails from readers who’ve declared, “See! See! I told you the Falcons were lucky and Matt Ryan is just average.”

My position is that 13-3 teams aren’t lucky. Teams that win games at the end deserve to.

We all have this perception about what a 13-3 team is, and anybody north of 40 will tell you that 13-3 teams 20 years ago generally were a lot better than 13-3 teams today.

Today, every team is flawed – right down to the 14-2 New England Patriots, who have not won a playoff game in the last three seasons.

When the Falcons were toasted by Green Bay, I wrote that they’re at the point where they should be judged by the playoffs, not the regular season. Coach Mike Smith echoed that sentiment.

Similarly, Ryan will be judged by how he fares in postseasons. Thus far, he has made major mistakes in two playoff games that contributed to losses to Green Bay and Arizona.

But here’s the mistake some are making: They’re making assumptions about Ryan’s future. We have no idea what Ryan will become. The best thing I can point to is the four remaining quarterbacks in the playoffs. Outside of all being former first-round draft picks, they couldn’t be less alike. Consider.

Jay Cutler, Chicago (fifth season)

What people thought before this season: knucklehead.

While Cutler always was considered to have immense talent, his arrogance and aloof nature turned people off even back at Vanderbilt. He was erratic at Denver, where he played for Mike Shanahan, who at the time was one of the NFL’s best quarterback and offensive coaches. (Unfortunately, Shanahan has since gone crazy.) Cutler outlasted Shanahan (who was fired), but not by long, as new coach Josh McDaniels orchestrated his trade to Chicago. In his first season with the Bears, Cutler went 7-9 with a career-high 26 interceptioins.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (sixth season, third as starter)

What people thought before this season: Can’t win the big one.

Rodgers waited behind Brett Favre until his fourth season before getting the starting job, and he has gotten better in each of his three seasons. Given the way he shredded the Falcons last week, he belongs in the best-quarterback-in-NFL conversation with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But the Packers missed the playoffs in his first year as a starter and lost at Arizona last season. But in this postseason he has won two road playoff games, far outplaying Ryan and Michael Vick. A new legacy is born.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (seventh season)

What people thought before this season: degenerate.

The biggest reason some fans won’t pull for the Steelers over the obnoxious Jets this week is Roethlisberger. He already has won two Super Bowls (proven) but he morphed from arrogant as a rookie to borderline degenerate off the field, punctuated by his actions in Milledgeville. He was fortunate to escape jail time. Home fans turned on him. Trade whispers ensued. Few projected he would have a strong season but he has. Now he’s one home win away from going to his third Super Bowl.

Mark Sanchez, New York  (2nd season)

What people thought before this season: Actually, same as now, but not two years ago.

Some, including his own coach at USC, Pete Carroll, believed Sanchez left college too early. He went only 8-7 as a rookie starter — the Jets won a game without him when he was sat down for an injury — but then he won two playoff games. There’s a tendency to overrate and underrate any team or athlete in New York. But here’s the only number you need to know. When the Jets play at Pittsburgh Sunday, Sanchez will already be playing in his sixth – sixth! – playoff game in two years. He is 4-1 – and every game has been on the road.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

201 comments Add your comment

DRDAWG13

January 19th, 2011
10:57 am

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 19th, 2011
11:00 am

Carlton

January 19th, 2011
11:00 am

Lowcountry Bulldawgs

January 19th, 2011
11:01 am

It is not Ryan. Look at what the teams all have- a tough mindset on the defensive side of the ball. All four have the playmakers and determination to lineup and punch you in the mouth. That is what is laking in Atlanta.

Carlton

January 19th, 2011
11:01 am

NCBravesFan

January 19th, 2011
11:04 am

Couldn’t agree more, Jeff. That game Saturday was a big bucket of fail for the Falcons in every aspect of the game.

For all his accomplishments as a QB in the regular season, we forget that Ryan is still a really young player who was made a starter right out of college. He’s carried a load of expectations admirably, and it’s important for the Falcons’ brass to continue to add on to the foundation that has been built.

Jim John

January 19th, 2011
11:05 am

This article is… AWFUL

Ryan is not on any of the 4 QB’s level left in the playoffs. He had a 13-3 season because the Falcons played the NFC West. ZERO Chance he does that again next year.

falCANTS4ever

January 19th, 2011
11:06 am

BIG difference between Matty Melt and the remaining QBs….an arm that can throw the ball more than 20yds down the field…and with some zip on it…that opens up the running game…all the opposing Ds have to do is worry about with the falCANTS is the run and the ‘dink’ passes Matty throws…

Lowcountry Bulldawgs

January 19th, 2011
11:08 am

Ryan is doing what is asked of him in the passing game. The dinking and dunking happens to be a Musgrave/Mularky West Coast passing game. You will not have tons of vertical routes. I am not defending it, just explaining it. The offense does need to open up and it will, but to blame Ryan is unfair. The defense has got to step up.

GTBob

January 19th, 2011
11:08 am

Ryan didn’t play well vs Green Bay but even if he had played the best game of his life we weren’t going to win that game. We will be back next year so lets see what he does then.

Joey

January 19th, 2011
11:09 am

I’m not judging Ryan at all. It’s the 70’s style offense that causes him to look average at times. Hell, Smith/Mularkey would make Rodgers and Brady look average, too.

What???

January 19th, 2011
11:12 am

First for what… Reading this article and posting a dumb comment before everyone else? Congratulations, you have no life and have nothing meaningful to add to this article. Keep hitting refresh to see what else comes hot off the press… loser!

Falcons did have a great season but in the NFL teams are graded based on your post season. Yeah I was bummed and it sucked that they were the number 1 seed but would it really matter if they were a 6th seed and won 2 games on the road and then lost the NFC championship game??? Sure they would be 2-1 in the post season but so what…

dan

January 19th, 2011
11:15 am

Jeff,

One of the drawbacks to having a fairly young team, is that there isn’t a point of reference in terms of how to handle adversity. There is a difference between getting hit in the mouth and getting your face shattered. The former can usually be shaken off after the first couple of jabs. But when you get your nose broken, the animal instinct of “fight or flight” kicks in. At the NFL level, for the “fight” instinct to kick into gear, it helps to have a battle tested veteran like a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or a Ray Lewis on your team who have experienced failure and success at the playoff level, to overcome the shock. Green Bay broke Atlanta’s nose when they went up 35-14 after halftime, and when that happened they desperately needed a veteran to step forward and say ” WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU GUYS!!! WE AIN’T GOING OUT LIKE THIS!!”. Of all the great things that Matt Ryan has accomplished up to this point, this is the one glaring area where I feel he must improve. His team needed him to step up and be the man in the Green Bay game when everything was breaking down around him. Instead he looked every bit of the 25 year old green horn that he is. The NFL is a Man’s League. It is no longer up to the coaches to get you mentally ready to play like it is in college. You either produce or you are gone! And that especially means producing during the worst of times. Champions are made of such things.

Also, it’s easy to lose prospective at a time like this, but you have to realize what this organization has overcome in the last 3 years. After the Mike Vick and Bobby Petrino debacle, many thought it would take YEARS for this organization to recover, similar to what the Detroit Lions are going through right now. No organization except for the Lions have had to overcome the kind of adversity that the Falcons have had to overcome. Not even close. So for this team to have 3 consecutive winning seasons,the first in their entire history; is nothing short of remarkable. At worst, this organization is a continual playoff team, and there are plenty of teams that would be more than willing to trade places with us.

A 48-21 playoff loss is hardly the worst adversity this franchise has had to overcome, and if the last 3 years are an indicator, we’ll bounce back from this all the wiser. This Falcon fan will trust the process. Blank & Co. have earned the benefit of the doubt from this ardent cynic.

Sloan

January 19th, 2011
11:19 am

Matt Ryan played a bad game, but that does not make him a bad player. When you get beat like the Falcons got beat this past Saturday, it takes a total team effort to lose that soundly on a big stage like the divisional round of the playoffs. The Falcons are a very good football team that probably won two games they shouldn’t have during the regular season, and that coupled with home field advantage had us all expecting great things. I think they will be back and better next year if they can address a few holes like defensive pass rush, a speedy receiver or a stud tight end (Gonzalez is not getting any younger).

MightyQuinn

January 19th, 2011
11:20 am

The question for me is: CAN Ryan be effective deep? Primarily it appears the short game is what the coaching staff wants in order to control the tempo of the game, eat up clock and keep the other team’s offense off the field. Which works when you can get the lead. The question I still have is whether Ryan can’t throw deep accurately or consistently or whether its our receiving corp isn’t fast/smart enough to get open deep so we don’t even try. Any thoughts on which it is, Jeff?

JSS

January 19th, 2011
11:22 am

dan
January 19th, 2011
11:15 am
“Jeff, One of the drawbacks to having a fairly young team, is that there isn’t a point of reference in terms of how to handle adversity. There is a difference between getting hit in the mouth and getting your face shattered. The former can usually be shaken off after the first couple of jabs.”

That’s just it, you do have it in terms of the Falcons… They’ve been hit in the mouth, four times, and they went down like Jerry Quarry!!!

Doing the medical appointments today, I’ll come back late and tear apart the comparisons that you made to the four championship game QBs…

dan

January 19th, 2011
11:25 am

Also,

Sometimes Blowout losses really do just happen! Sometimes everything goes right for your opponent and wrong for your team.Its certainly not fun when it happens to your team especially on a nationally televised stage. But in the NFL where there is so much parity, every team is bound to experience one every now and then.

Just to give you a few examples:

Joe Montana, a winner if there ever was one; got blown out 49-3 vs. Lawrence Taylor & Co. in the Meadowlands in a Divisional Playoff game back in 1986. He went on to win two more Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989

John Elway lost to the Joe Montana 49ers 55-10 in the 1990 Super Bowl, and he finished his career with two Super Bowl wins.

Troy Aikman got pasted by the Detroit Lions 38-6 in his first playoff appearance before winning 3 out of the next 4 Super Bowls.

Losses happen in the NFL. Sometimes they’re big and sometimes they’re gargantuan! And how you proceed moving forward will determine what your team is truly made of.

PMC

January 19th, 2011
11:28 am

What do those QB’s have in common?

Skullcrushing or opportunistic defenses that bail them out when they make mistakes.

Who Dat got a Super Bowl ring!!!!!

January 19th, 2011
11:28 am

So your point is…….that Matt Ryan isn’t as good as everyone says he is???? That’s what I take from it. Matt Ryan straight up choked against the Packers. Matt Ice melted under the glaring lights of the Playoffs. It’s cool, average QB’s do that. Give the Falcants one of the 4 QB’s you listed above or Brees, Brady, or Manning or heck even Hasselbeck and this is a Super Bowl team.

Roethlisberger maybe a knucklehead but he’s a knucklehead with 2 Super Bowl titles. Sanchez is headed to his 2nd AFC Championship game. Cutler is making his first playoff appearance while Rogers is making every defense he plays look bad.

What did Matt Ryan do? Oh yeah, he threw a pick 6 at the end of the half that pretty much sealed the game. he also threw one in the endzone.

DRDAWG13

January 19th, 2011
11:28 am

Hey what??? your just mad you didn’t get first, i like reading the blogs and this was the first one i saw with no comments so i put first. so back off

falCANTS4ever

January 19th, 2011
11:29 am

falCANTS a young team?…look at the rosters…Packers are younger than the falCANTS..each team has a group of vets with 10+yrs, but…on the whole, the Pack is younger…

Mack1124

January 19th, 2011
11:30 am

Jim John, you can’t blame Ryan for playing the NFCWest this year, he played who the NFL told him to play. Will we be 13-3 next year, I’m not sure but are you going to fault every QB/team that will play the NFCWest?

If we make playoffs next year, Ryan will be under immense pressure to win the BIG ONE. I still say that a lot of NFL would want Ryan on their team vs. what they have now: Jacksonville, Washington, SF, Arizona, Cleveland, Denver, Carolina, Dolphins, Seattle, Minnesota, Tennesse, Cincinnati (not a believer in Carson) should I say Houston, Schaub, great numbers, great arm but has no idea on how to win games.

Regarding his arm strenght I have seen Ryan throw the ball downfield, granted he’s not Cutler, but I will fault our controlled, chew up the clock, run the football mentality Head Coach than Ryan’s arm.

PMC

January 19th, 2011
11:31 am

It’s too early to make grandiose judgements on Ryan. He’s done in his first 3 years what no other QB in 45 was able to do here. It’s a little ridiculous to pass judgement for one game anyway even though he made two of the worst decisions/passes of his career.

The Falcons are getting better, they just aren’t as far along yet as we hoped they were.

Who Dat got a Super Bowl ring!!!!!

January 19th, 2011
11:33 am

do people get prizes for being first????

Dr. Warren

January 19th, 2011
11:33 am

Let’s be honest: it was clear the Falcons were in trouble from the first Green Bay offensive series, when Rodgers easily converted a third and long for what would have been a 70+ yard TD had we not knocked loose the fumble from the receiver’s hands. Rodgers and his receivers did whatever they wanted from then on. Why should Ryan take so much blame? Give the guy a legit playoff defense, and watch him do at least what Mark Sanchez has done. At least.

dan

January 19th, 2011
11:34 am

JSS

Not really sure where the disagreement is? But yes, in all the Falcons losses this year, they haven’t displayed a lot of fortitude, especially in the Green Bay loss. That is a sign of immaturity. We don’t have a lot of guys on our roster that are battle harded from playoff experience. And unfortunately, sometimes the only way to get better is to get you butt handed to you. Mike MacCarthy and the Packers had two early exits in the playoffs in 2007 and 2009, and I’ll gurantee you that they learned from those losses, hence their incredible play this post season. There is just no bypassing the learning curp.

JASon

January 19th, 2011
11:37 am

Jeff, all of what you said is fine except the fact remains we just got blown out because of Matt Ryan’s poor decisions.

Who Dat got a Super Bowl ring!!!!!

January 19th, 2011
11:37 am

i don’t get the whole, young team thing. I mean yeah Ryan is in his 3rd year but you guys traded for Gonzalez whose what 34+? Mike Peterson has been around forever, McClure well I barely remember him as an LSU Tiger. Finneran is old, Turner is nearing 30 if not there and has taken on quite a load recently. Your WR’s have been in the league for 5-6 years now…. Abraham is on the wrong side of 31.

I’ve had a few people tell me the end is near for the “aging Saints” but by looking at it the Saints are just as young as the Falcants. This excuse doesn’t cut it….drop it.

Hayseed Dixie

January 19th, 2011
11:39 am

This ain’t college ball.

In the NFL, a win is a win. This is a grown man’s league.

Falcons are not overrated. Here’s a simpler answer: they had a bad night that turned into a perfect storm.

Mack1124

January 19th, 2011
11:39 am

I also think we need to stop grading QB’s on their W-L records. No way Sanchez will be in the playoffs without that Defense. Throw him in Buffalo and he would probably have the label of a BUST. You can say the same for Flacco playoff success, before this year he threw only 1 TD in 5 playoff games. Was Big Ben the difference maker in his first Superbowl? For all of you who think Sanchez is so great, do you think he could have beaten the Packers with that ATLANTA DEFENSE and that showed up Saturday night, even w/o a pick 6.

dan

January 19th, 2011
11:40 am

Wow seriously Who Dat?

You must have balls of brass to come on here and talk trash after your team collasped to a 7-9 Seahawks team!! The Falcons certainly got our butts kicked, but at least all of our losses this year have been to playoff teams. Your team lost to Cleveland for God sakes.

And I agree with some of the other posters: Give Matt Ryan the same defense that the Jets or the Steelers have, and I gurantee that he’d be better than Rapistburger and Dirty Sanchez. Those teams have won games in spite of their QB play this season.

ejj

January 19th, 2011
11:46 am

Why are you and Bradley writing about the same thing. No news, guy?

Who Dat got a Super Bowl ring!!!!!

January 19th, 2011
11:47 am

HAHAHAHAHA Dan—- sure we lost to Cleveland and Seattle, those losses hurt but we were still one missed FG in Overtime from having that #1 seed. You seem to forget that you lost to a Steelers team that was without their starting QB and 2 O-linemen….that’s not a playoff team. Oh and the Saints still have a Lombardi Trophy you fool so yeah my balls are pretty brassy right now!!! The Saints folded this year in the playoffs, i’ll admit. but when they were the #1 seed with HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE, guess what they didn’t CHOKE like the Falcants did. So yeah, i’ll keep trash talking because the falcants did what they always do and that is CHOKE!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA Good luck next year, I can’t wait to hear the excuses for why you folded.

falCANTS4ever

January 19th, 2011
11:48 am

dan, what?….because the falCANTS lost to the Packers, does that makes the loss any more acceptable…there are no MORAL victories in the playoffs…falCANTS 2011 playoff record….0-1…Saints 2011 playoff record…0-1…even though the Saints might be shown in the record books as having lost a playoff game to a 7-9 team…that same record book shows the Saints as having a SB victory….where do the falCANTS appear in the SB stats?….not as winners…falCANTS

Kane337

January 19th, 2011
11:48 am

Defense wins playoff games….unless you can get into a shootout like the Cardinals/Packers did last year (51-45). Shootouts won’t allow you to consistently win games.

Look at the defenses of the 4 teams that currently remain. All are good. The Falcons need to improve on collapsing the pocket of the QB if they want to win playoff games.

old timer

January 19th, 2011
11:49 am

This is the problem with big games. Everything gets blown out of proportion. Ryan is still what he was, a fine young QB. He will only get better. Falcons would be in trouble without him. Overlooked was how much the Packers have improved since November. They have been able to restock the defense where injuries were more numerous than on offense, which lost a starting running back and one of the best tight ends in the game. They promoted an inside linebacker (Bishop) from the bench and signed a second linebacker (Erik Waldon) off the street. They promoted Falcon castoff Charlie Peprah to start at safety when the original starter went on IR and his backup couldn’t stay healthy. That it took a while for all this to jell is not surprising; what is surprising is that it came together this season at all. But it was obvious if you watched the team since Rodgers returned from missing a game with a concussion that they were suddenly playing really good football again. As Troy Aikman said during the telecast when Buck kept asking him what the Falcons needed to do, “The problem Atlanta is having is that they are not as good a team as what the Packers are.” Ryan is not the problem. Find a deep-threat receiver (Ryan can get him the ball), a third-down back who can catch the ball, and another pass rusher and the Falcons will have a shot at the whole thing next year.

Who Dat got a Super Bowl ring!!!!!

January 19th, 2011
11:51 am

Roethlisber and Sanchez are asked to not lose games while the running game and defense take over. Matt Ryan lost this game for the Falcants. He was singlehandedly responsible for 14 points of that difference (pick 6 and pick in endzone). Ray Lewis went off on his offense for turning the ball over in the redzone. It doesn’t matter how good your Defense is, if your offense can’t score and continues to turn the ball over, you’re going to lose.

Who Dat got a Super Bowl ring!!!!!

January 19th, 2011
11:54 am

At least our playoff loss was on the road in one of the toughest environments to play in. not in our cozy home dome. man, what a choke job!!!!

Big E

January 19th, 2011
12:00 pm

Jeff, I agree that none of the QB’s left in the playoffs are any better than Ryan, with the exception of maybe Aaron Rodgers. But there is one thing that they all have that Ryan doesn’t, and that’s a dominating defense. There’s no doubt that the teams left have the best defenses in the league, and believe it or not, having a good defense means alot to a QB, it allows him to play more confidently because he knows that his defense will cover any mistake he might make.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 19th, 2011
12:10 pm

Hi Guys, I think everyone knows me and there is no need for introductions……………..

“I TOLD YOU SO”

Your intelligent thinker and great defensive reader and the 2nd coming of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is a JOKE, a FRAUD.

Dimitroff and Smith needs to go also.

Who in their right mind would use a 3rd pick on a guy, who played 5 years of college ball in the weak A.C.C. and still throw 22 picks in the 5th year?

Why do you think the Dolphins would pass him up for an offensive lineman?

I told you people that this guy would never make anyone forget about Vick. Vick at Virginia Tech in his freshman season is better than CHOKE will ever be in the NFL.

The AJC can continue to make up excuses for the Falcons failures, but Jim Mora didn’t have a problem in his 1st season. :)

just sayin

January 19th, 2011
12:11 pm

All of these teams with the exception of Green Bay have outstanding defenses and usually win because of plays made by their defense.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 19th, 2011
12:14 pm

As I predicted 3 years ago when the Falcants drafted this BUST,
The AJC and the delusional Falcants fans would be making excuses for CHOKE for years to come.

You people are so predictable :)

just sayin

January 19th, 2011
12:15 pm

JASon
January 19th, 2011
11:37 am

Jeff, all of what you said is fine except the fact remains we just got blown out because of Matt Ryan’s poor decisions.

JASon == dumb as dirt

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 19th, 2011
12:15 pm

Mark Sanchez is 5-1 in the playoffs.

Just saying :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 19th, 2011
12:16 pm

Joe Flacco is 4-3 in the playoffs.

Just saying :)

just sayin

January 19th, 2011
12:16 pm

Matt “CHOKE” Ryan
January 19th, 2011
12:10 pm

The biggest fan of “Ron Mexico” in the US.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 19th, 2011
12:16 pm

CHOKE is 0-2 with 6 turnovers in the playoffs.

Just saying :)

Rich T

January 19th, 2011
12:16 pm

There are more things wrong with this team than Matt Ryan.

Big bag of CHOKE!!!!

January 19th, 2011
12:18 pm

I love seeing that falCANTS bandwagon shrink. Midway through the season there was an ESPN article calling Matt Ryan elite. John Clayton picked you guys to go to the Super Bowl in preseason. Several other media outlets jumped on that bandwagon. Man it was so great, watching in person, as that all came crashing to a halt in the GA Dome!!! falCANTS 0-1 in 2010 playoffs. HAHAHAHAHA

Who Dat got a Super Bowl Ring???!!!

January 19th, 2011
12:19 pm

DREW BREEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS