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Column: Maybe – just maybe – Matt Ryan deserved more than he received for the spoils he delivered

Looking back on a Hall of Fame worthy career as Matt Ryan officially announces retirement from the league.  


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The irony that Cam Newton was the one who asked Matt Ryan, on the record, a question many have circled around for years shouldn't be lost on anyone.

A couple months ago, Newton had Ryan on his 4th and 1 podcast. The very first question he asked Ryan was simple - only eight words in length - but incredibly loaded.

"Has all your work been appreciated in Atlanta?" Newton asked.

In the next split second, what looked like a slightly unsuspecting Ryan leaned back and responded in jest: "We're starting with the bangers here."

Gathering his wits about him (and probably weighing the consequences of being truthful in his response), Ryan answered.

"The short answer? Probably no," Ryan said. "But at the same time, I am proud of what I did and the time that I spent there. I think there was a level of consistency that we provided."

Ryan would go on to talk about the division, praising the skills of Newton and Drew Brees and saying the teams in the NFC South at the time were "juggernauts," specifically the opposing defenses put together throughout Ryan's years in the division.

The longtime quarterback masterfully moved the conversation quickly away from himself. He didn't even say, "There was a level of consistency that I provided." He used the plural, "we." However, even as he and Newton carried on, the crux of Ryan's answer to that first question hung in the air.

And if I am being honest with you, the word "consistency" is what inspired articles I have since written.

Case in point? A recent analysis that published when the news broke that the Falcons were signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a four-year deal when the 2024 new league year began. In it, I stated the Falcons were spoiled by Ryan and the consistency – or stability – he provided the franchise. Truth be told, it was something I didn't even realize was such a major part of Ryan's story until he was no longer in Atlanta.

After 14 seasons with one of the most accurate pocket passers and consistent presences in the league at the time, the Falcons experienced upheaval at the quarterback position. Nothing against Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke, but the decision to pick up Cousins in free agency this offseason was a sign the Falcons not only needed a certain level of stability but craved it in order to get to where they want to go. It's a stability the organization hasn't experienced since Ryan was traded.

So, I pose the question: In the modern era, how many organizations can say they experienced the level of consistency Ryan created at the quarterback position in Atlanta for more than a decade? When you're considering the recent history of 32 teams, it's probably less than you think.

Ryan finished his 14 seasons with the Falcons by setting every major franchise passing record. The Falcons made the playoffs six times with Ryan, including that ill-fated Super Bowl run in 2016. He's the Falcons' all-time passing leader. He was an Offensive Rookie of the Year, a four-time Pro Bowler, an AP MVP and an All-Pro.

What's perhaps as impressive as the accolades? The fact Ryan barely missed any time on the field.

Ryan had a bout with turf toe in 2009, missing two games. It took another decade for an injury to sideline him again, which was a sprained ankle that only saw him sit out Week 8 of the 2019 season.

With the Falcons, Ryan was iron and ice. He was strength in play and cool under pressure, as his 38 fourth-quarter career comebacks can attest to. And those 38 comebacks rank only behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger for the most-career comebacks of quarterbacks in the league since 1950. Hall of Fame company is good company to keep.

For years, whether people believe it, the Falcons were better because of Ryan. Not with him. Not for him. Because of him.

Ryan would never say that, though, being the consummate professional that he is and always has been since the day he was drafted No. 3 overall by the Falcons in 2008. That's OK. Plenty of coaches, former players, former opponents and league analysts have said it over the years. Ryan's career is gold-jacket worthy, even without a Super Bowl championship.

And you know what? It's OK if you don't think so. I know there's a loud faction that never quite appreciated Ryan and, likely, never will. Just because Ryan wasn't everyone's cup of tea doesn't mean you can discredit what he was to an organization at one of the lowest points in franchise history and in the decade that followed.

It's true that you can never make everyone happy. It's simply not possible. Ryan knows that better than most. And no, he wasn't perfect. But he consistently performed to a degree worthy of respect.

Shall I make one more note? It's one some won't like.

Ryan was never going to be Michael Vick. He didn't need to be. There's only one Vick, just as there's only one Ryan. Both things can be true simultaneously and not diminish the other. We don't have to pit them against each other in our memories. It's OK to respect the play of both men. It's OK to recognize their impacts in vastly different ways.

However, is it OK that Ryan himself doesn't necessarily believe his career in Atlanta was appreciated by the contingent of a fan base he gave his best years to? Honestly? That's pretty sad considering what Ryan was for Atlanta for so long.

Maybe – just maybe – Ryan deserved more than he received for the spoils he delivered.

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