If Matt Ryan isn’t Peyton Manning but Eli, is that enough?

Everybody's happy when Matty Ice throws a touchdown pass. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Everybody's happy when Matty Ice throws a TD pass. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Regarding this Falcons’ season, only one question remains, and it will be answered next week in Tampa. Regarding the Falcons as a team, a question has arisen, a question we didn’t figure we’d be asking. But here it is:

What if the franchise quarterback isn’t quite a franchise quarterback?

We stipulate by saying that, if on the day Matt Ryan was drafted we’d have known the Falcons would be 19-10 (and 13-1 at home) with him as a starting quarterback, we’d have swooned on the spot. And we spent all last season swooning. But the greatest rookie quarterback in league history — and that’s what he was — hasn’t been the greatest sophomore quarterback in NFL annals.

Sunday was another installment in Ryan’s good-but-not-great season. He completed barely half his passes and had to hit on his final five to manage that. He threw three touchdown passes against no interceptions, but he was sacked three times and fumbled twice. He finished with 250 yards and his team won 31-3, but after two quarters Ryan was only 10-for-23 and his team’s lead was 10-0 against a Buffalo roster so defoliated it wouldn’t have troubled Alabama.

Yes, there were extenuating circumstances. Michael Turner didn’t play. Tony Gonzalez left midway through. Ryan did buy his team a working lead on the Falcons’ first snap, throwing long to Roddy White down the right side. And Ryan himself is still hurting from turf toe — he limped during the game and sported a soft boot afterward.

And maybe that’s the story of Matt Ryan’s 2009 season: It was extenuating. Almost nothing went wrong last season; a lot did this time. Guys got hurt. The schedule got tougher. And still he has gotten this team to the cusp of those forever-sought consecutive winning seasons. He hasn’t been anything approaching a failure. That said …

Matty Ice hasn’t been as precise in Year 2. His completion percentage has dipped from 61.1 to 57.6. He has thrown one more interception in 13 games than he did in 16 last year. His yards-per-pass index — probably a better indicator than the confusing quarterback rating — has gone from 7.9 last season to 6.5.

Asked about Ryan’s non-rookie season, White said: “I think it’s been pretty good. He’s done a lot of good things. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes, and that’s good. Him getting hurt really hurt. But he’s a competitor.”

Notice, though, there was no gushing in that response. When anyone associated with the Falcons was asked about Ryan in 2008, gushing ensued. In many ways that was to be expected;  there was no way Ryan could have surprised his audience after his bravura rookie campaign. Still, there hasn’t been a Ryan game in 2009 that made you want to shout, “Hallelujah!” (The second half against the Giants did. But not the whole game.)

Asked to characterize Year 2, Ryan said: “The biggest thing — and this is something Coach [Mike] Smith preaches — is that it’s there’s a lot to learn from week to week. I said going into last season that if I could end it as a better quarterback than I started, it will be a successful year. That hasn’t changed in Year 2. There have been some ups and downs, but I’m standing here as a better quarterback than when I started the season.”

Understand: Nobody associated with the Falcons is even close to deciding Matt Ryan isn’t the real deal. Indeed, if this is as bad as it gets with Ryan as QB, then this franchise is in not just for two winning seasons in succession but five or 10. But the convenient point of comparison for Ryan raters entering 2009 was Peyton Manning. What if he turns out to be Eli Manning instead? Would that be enough?

And I say, “Heck, yeah.” At last check, Eli Manning has won just as many Super Bowls as his older sibling. If Matt Ryan wins just one Super Bowl for the franchise that hasn’t yet posted consecutive winning seasons, he’ll be worth every penny of that $72 million.

435 comments Add your comment

Here we go again

December 27th, 2009
6:15 pm

Clusters.

Oh wait, nevermind. First.

First

December 27th, 2009
6:16 pm

Things first 9-7

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:17 pm

You have to get up pretty early to out-first Sonny Clusters. Kudos, Here We Go …

Here we go again

December 27th, 2009
6:18 pm

With the bucs beating the saints, let’s not get ahead of ourselves on that whole breaking the streak thing…

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:19 pm

That would be a cruel fate — missing the streak-breaker against a team like that. But I recall the Falcons missing a kick in overtime in Tampa that would have done the deed in 2005.

La Jolla Dawg

December 27th, 2009
6:20 pm

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:20 pm

Often I swoon.

falcons fan5114

December 27th, 2009
6:21 pm

Still the best QB Atl has had. MV was only a fan favorite bacause of his style-not his play. Rather have Matty on a bad day than MV on a good.

Here we go again

December 27th, 2009
6:23 pm

I remember that one. That was the season I started thinking the whole Mike Vick thing might not work out after all. Let’s give Matty Ice some grace in his 2nd season (and we have, I think). People got a little too excited and ahead of themselves this year; I think with more reasonable expectations in 2010, the Falcons have a chance to surprise some people.

So how long will it take you to crank out a column about Meyer’s indecision before you go on vacation, mb?

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:24 pm

If you had told me in April 2008 that the Falcons — coming off Petrino, Vick and 4-12 — would have a chance to break the consecutive-winning season drought in Ryan’s second year, I’d have said it was the greatest draft pick in team history. And that’s still where it stands.

26.2

December 27th, 2009
6:25 pm

Right on Mark. He isn’t a Marino, Fouts, Peyton, ect. But I think he is a solid upper crust QB that will be successful provided Birds can also be solid on OL, at running game and with tough defense.

BoDog

December 27th, 2009
6:26 pm

Mark,
I believe that the Iceman has not yet cometh anywhere near his ultimate destination, which will be one of the top 5 QBs in the game. That is plenty good enough to get the Falcons to the promised land, but as we all know, he can’t do it all himself.
This team needs DEFENSE!!!
I don’t think I need to utter the phrase that we all have heard 1,000 times about what wins championships, do I???
If our management/coaching team can put together just a top 10 defense, my thoughts are that we will be celebrating multiple championships in this much starved city of ours!

my 2 cents!

Meanwhile...what's in a name?

December 27th, 2009
6:27 pm

Maybe not quite as smooth as Matt Helm, but definitely a stronger arm than Eli Wallach.

He’ll do. Certainly better than the last Falcon QB whose first and last names could be interchangeable.

FalconOne

December 27th, 2009
6:27 pm

Let’s give Matt Ryan another year. I believe looking at Ryan and his 36 TD, 6100 yards passing and 23 Int. in 2 years he is well on his way to a stellar career. His career record of 19-12 is better than Peyton’s first two years with the Colts where he was 16-16. Peyton had 52 TD and 43 Int. Ryan and Manning both had basically the same rating of 82%. It’s hard to compare Peyton after all these years with Ryan. I don’t believe Ryan will ever be Peyton, but he will surely be better than Eli. All I can save with Ryan he will only get better. We wouldn’t even be talking having two back to back winning seasons if Vick were still here.

Supes

December 27th, 2009
6:29 pm

Here we go, Mark you wrote a lot but said very little. What is your and Schultz’s agenda with the Falcons and Matt Ryan? Why can’t you just WAIT for your 3 year “rookie evaluation” deal to end and come back after 3 years to pronounce judgement?

How’s this Mark…Matt Ryan is MATT RYAN. It’ll be good if people stopped (that is you, the media) comparing him to various other QB’s, guy has had 2 seasons in the league.

I think there are countless OTHER issues that could prevent the 2010 FALCONS from being a playoff team..and they don’t involve the STARTING QB position!

Just damn…

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:29 pm

Few among us are as smooth as Matt Helm. Sonny Clusters is, but the list is all too brief.

Manny

December 27th, 2009
6:29 pm

He’s not Eli Manning, either. He’s Matt Ryan. His skills aren’t quite like Eli- both good or bad. Matt Ryan is closer to, uh… I don’t know… Chad Pennington. He may be a little better than Chad Pennington right now, but his skills are Chad Pennington. Eli Manning? Ryan’s game simply doesn’t remind me of him at all.

La Jolla Dawg

December 27th, 2009
6:29 pm

Better be careful Mark, I heard excessive swooning can cause issues with ones health. Wouldn’t want you having to take an indefinite leave of absence.

jimmy

December 27th, 2009
6:30 pm

my god why can’t we greatfull .i was there when roland lawrence was deemed nto short and to slow and sent us home in tear’s.mr blank’s proudct is a hellalot more plattable than we have before.we have a lot to look foward to

FalconOne

December 27th, 2009
6:31 pm

BTW, Ryan would probably have at least another 600 yards passing and 3 or 4 more touchdown passes had he played in the three games he missed. And yes, Turner being out has hurt tremendously. I believe the Falcons MUST build their defense. I would also get a running back in case Turner goes down again. Ryan in all has had a decent year and would have passed his passing numbers of last year easily if he hadn’t missed the 3 games.

Manny

December 27th, 2009
6:32 pm

I want to say something a little unrelated here. Someone on this blog actually said that the Saints was going to lose against the Bucs. He or she said that it was because of what the Colts did during their run a few years ago or something.

Whoever that was… Kudos.

Meanwhile...taking a guess here

December 27th, 2009
6:33 pm

Mark I’m guessing the poster named 26.2 is trying to say, in not so many words, that when it comes to evaluating Ryan, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

ThankfullyNotVick

December 27th, 2009
6:34 pm

All I can say is THANK GOD Matt Ryan isn’t Mike Vick. The worst passer to ever put on a Falcon uniform.

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:34 pm

Actually, La Jolla, I am taking a leave of absence. But it lasts only seven days, and we’re calling it a vacation.

willie martinez

December 27th, 2009
6:35 pm

Mark, I’d rather have talent than speed. willie

willie martinez

December 27th, 2009
6:36 pm

i always thought that aundre bruce was the best draft pick in falcons history.

no?

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:36 pm

You know, Manny, I’ve gone that route myself. Who does Ryan most closely resemble? And “a better Chad Pennington” is pretty darn close to what I’ve managed.

BugKiller

December 27th, 2009
6:36 pm

I think the problems with Matt Ryan this year have EVERYTHING to do with coaching.

Why does the offense NEVER throw screen passes to take the pressure off the o-line?

Why does Mularky continually call for roll-outs to the SHORT side of the field, taking 2/3’s of the field away from Ryan?

Why isn’t Mularky calling the downfield passes like he did last year?

I was worried, a little, going into the year, when Mularky said he took about 1/4 of the playbook offline.

Why the hell would he do that?

Matt Ryan needs an OC who can take advantage of his strengths and help him overcome his weaknesses.

None of that has happened with Mularky this year. It’s like there’s been no coaching of Ryan whatsoever.

The Falcons have a chance to bring in the man who made Tom Brady what he is today if they have the forsight to part ways with Mularky now.

You don’t think Charlie Weis wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with and groom Matt Ryan?

Unfortunately, Mike Smith will do as Mark Richt did, and hold on to his coach one or two years too long.

This offense should have been legendary. With or without Turner, there was enough power in this offense to do some great things.

Instead, it’s been unimaginative and very repetitive. Gonzalez runs two routes. White runs two or three routes. There’s no variation.

Let Mike Mularky go somewhere else and bring in offensive genius and quarterback guru Charlie Weis, the man who made Tom Brady, to bring out the best in Matt Ryan.

Have some vision, Mike Smith!

willie martinez

December 27th, 2009
6:37 pm

no, maybe bubba bean was the best pick.

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:37 pm

Aundray Bruce seemed a good idea at the time, Coach. We loved the fact he had a machete. Then he got in trouble with said machete.

dekalbdawg

December 27th, 2009
6:38 pm

Matt Ryan needs to definitiley work on some things in the offseason if we are to progress into a Playoff Team! Even without the injury he was forcing the ball at times! He seems to be a better QB when the Pace is faster(no huddle). He also needs to learn how to hit the checkdown! instead of
always throwing the ball away if he doesnt have a Open reciever.

END THE CURSE

December 27th, 2009
6:38 pm

Ryan is still a work in progress as is the TEAM, but we do have something very important left to play for this year, END THE CURSE. Think of all our past teams since 1966 who have had success one year, only to fail the next year. Hopefully, we now have a group of leaders in the coaching and front office staffs that will be able to guide this program in the right direction; and bring us into the promised land of year in and year out winning seasons. IF we can get to that point, then we will have a better chance of a Super Bowl victory. So yes I will take a 9-7 for this year. Having consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history IS a step in the right direction to developing a winning attitude for this team.

David

December 27th, 2009
6:39 pm

We’d still be in the playoff mix if he hadn’t missed two games. Being in the playoffs one year, and in the mix the year after, isn’t the signs of a failing QB. There probably won’t be another Manning (Peyton, that is). That comparsion should stop, because with another Super Bowl title, it’s quite likely he’ll go down as the greatest QB in the history of the sport.

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:39 pm

I would agree that Mularkey’s play-calling has had an effect on Ryan. Hard to throw for big yardage when you’re not throwing deep. But you tend to throw deep off play-action, and those fakes haven’t had the same impact in 2009.

willie martinez

December 27th, 2009
6:39 pm

i remember Greg Brezina coming to speak to my high school the monday morning after a game. Limping but bold. now that guy’s a man.

billcanoe

December 27th, 2009
6:39 pm

Just give him some time, and Matty Ice will be everything that we could hope for. this falcons team has perservered through serious injuries and a much tougher schedule than last year to still do pretty well, everything considered. By the way, the measuring stick is not Peyton or Eli, but Tom Brady, who will have 4 Super Bowl rings before he is through. (He would have them already, but for the most miraculous catch in Super Bowl history.) give ryan time and he will be as good as Brady.

Meanwhile...speaking of Colts QBs

December 27th, 2009
6:39 pm

If we are comparing him to Colt QBs, at the very least it’s a good sign we are talking about Peyton Manning, and not Jeff George.

FoxNoise.net

December 27th, 2009
6:40 pm

Ryan doesn’t have to be great for the Falcons to be great.

FalconOne

December 27th, 2009
6:40 pm

Chad Pennington? Are you kidding? Give me a break. Why don’t you go back and look at John Elway and his first two full seasons. 6500 yards passing, 40 TD’s and 38 INT. along with a 73% rating. And those two teams were 12-4 and 11-5. When did the great QB’s usually hit their peaks. Their 3rd, 4th, 5th years, not in the second. If Ryan has better stats and rating than Elway, I will take it every day.

Mark Bradley

December 27th, 2009
6:41 pm

Headed home now, folks. Thanks for hanging with me all day. It has been, as ever, a hoot and a half.

willie martinez

December 27th, 2009
6:41 pm

Obviously, the falcons have had 35 busts in first draft picks to the few good ones.

Brett Favre will haunt the team forever.

willie martinez

December 27th, 2009
6:42 pm

Safe travels Mark.

willie martinez

December 27th, 2009
6:43 pm

And a happy new year. best, willie

Meanwhile...speaking of Colts QBs

December 27th, 2009
6:43 pm

Mark for your indefatigable yoeman’s work, you’ve been granted an indefinite leave of absence with full pay and benefits. Take all the rest of 2009 to regroup.

Hillbilly Deluxe

December 27th, 2009
6:44 pm

Matt Ryan and the offense in general would look better if they had a good offensive line. It’s been many years since the Falcons had a good offensive line.

Would the real Matt Ryan please stand-up

December 27th, 2009
6:45 pm

As a former college receiver, my analysis for what is worth. Matt Ryan legacy will be based on next year.

Also, Ryan is a timing quarterback. With great perfection he can make most of this throws. He is no Drew Brees or Peyton Manning who can make all the throws. Nor do I believe he will ever be. But, he will be a top 10 quarterback in the league and if the falcons build a system around him, then he can be a playoff gb, maybe a superbowl qb one year or two. He is no Romo or QB who can flourish without a near perfect system around him: great run game, ol and defense etc. Some qb’s can overcome those things, I don’t see Ryan being one of them.

Build falcons build.

BugKiller

December 27th, 2009
6:47 pm

Mark,

But it’s the frustrating repetative crap with Mularky, who seems like he’s channeling the worst and most unimaginative parts of Willie Martinez.

There is NO screen pass in this offense. None. Oh, sometimes when Norwood is in the game, and the other team knows exactly what’s coming.

Throw to Turner in the flats, dammit! He has soft hands!

And then there is how Mularky is using Gonzalez, which is downright shameful. Seriously, he has him running two routes. A post and an out. That’s it.

But again, the WORST, is when he calls all the rollouts to the SHORT side of the field. It’s beyond stupid!

You know WHY the Falcons offense is much better in the no huddle???

Because Mularky is NOT calling the plays! Ryan is!!!

Seriously… what is with this idea that because someone is serviceable that you should never look for someone better?

Mularky is serviceable, but he’s not the best the Falcons can now get. Charlie Weis is out there. And KC or Buffalo is going to go get him if the Falcons don’t show some vision and get him first.

Weis may have been a terrible head coach. So was Dick LeBeau. But Dick and Charlie are outstanding coordinators.

Pick him up while you have the chance!

Mel in Midtown

December 27th, 2009
6:48 pm

Send a message to Arthur Blank: “Keep of the sidelines!” Become a Facebook Fan of “Keep Arthur Blank OFF the Atlanta Falcon’s sidelines!” Click here: bit.ly/5mjRyA

The Grinch

December 27th, 2009
6:52 pm

He is definitely still a work in progress, and it isn’t really fair to compare his two seasons considering the sked, injuries (including those to himself), missed time, etc. Yeah, he’s regressed a tad. But the whole team has regressed (including Mularkey) so let’s take that into account. For god’s sake, we had a defensive end kicking off today and still won by four touchdowns. Had we been at anything close to full strength in any area this year this article wouldn’t exist.

E43

December 27th, 2009
6:52 pm

this article says nothing to me, its like putting peyton manning on and matt ryan on two different hawks loosing teams and comparing their stats. tony romo had zero completions, tds ints his first year after being undrafted and look how he’s come along. that being said he (tony)was on an already good team that needed few pieces.

Manning is a great quarterback just like jordan was a great guard but no one has been labeled to follow the same footsteps these two took just yet. its premature to make assumptions right now. just imagine if our deffense got just 1-2 more picks within 50 or scoring range and matts rating wouldve been that much better.