Thirty snaps were not nearly enough. One absence was one too many.
Atlanta Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews started his first-ever game as a rookie in 2014, playing until halftime when a possible injury held him out for the remainder of the Falcons' season-opening win over the New Orleans Saints in overtime.
Turns out, Matthews sustained a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for a Week 2 contest the Falcons lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in regulation.
"I think, a little bit like me, he felt like he was letting people down if he wasn't going to be out on the field," said Jake's father, Bruce Matthews, a Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman for 19 seasons. "It's like, I don't ever want somebody else in my spot out there. It may be an unhealthy type of fixation but it's real."
So real, Jake never missed another game in 10 years of play. That's a marvel in the modern NFL, where injuries are common enough the average career lasts approximately 3.3 years.
When he took the field last Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Falcons' first offensive series against the Saints, he broke a franchise record with his 155th consecutive regular-season start. That surpasses former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's benchmark of 154.
Jake's streak is still active entering Week 13 of the 2023 season. He'll likely downplay the accomplishment in favor of focusing on this Sunday's game (1 p.m., FOX) against the New York Jets. In the meantime, others will gladly provide praise in all aspects of Jake's life – personally, physically and professionally.
"He's so deserving of any type of recognition that he gets," Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said. "Because that's a huge feat. You don't see that a lot. For him to do that – be consistently playing at the level that he's done so for so long now and continue to do so – that's very special."
When T.J. Yates initially joined the Falcons as a backup quarterback in 2014, he was embarking on his fourth season in the NFL. Jake, the Falcons' No. 6 overall draft pick that year, hadn't even made his professional debut. And yet the two gravitated toward each other as newcomers in their own ways.
That was great for them, but they needed to bond with everyone. So, Jake invited the entire team over to his Lake Lanier home for a preseason cookout.
"His leadership skills showed from a very early stage," said Yates, now the Falcons wide receivers coach. "It's not normal that a rookie has everyone over to his house. … Even though he was so young, he seemed very mature when he first got here.
"That's why, still to this day, he seems like the same person. Because he really is."
And some things should never change.
Center Alex Mack signed with the Falcons in 2016 as an eighth-year veteran. By then, Yates had moved on. Jake remained in Atlanta.
Again, prior to the season, Jake hosted the entire team for a cookout. At this point, he had a boat to sweeten the deal.
"I have really fond memories of my time in Atlanta," said Mack, who remained with the Falcons through 2020, "and Jake was very much a constant of that whole stint there."
Time spent with teammates outside the facility has only increased since then, when dinners were more spontaneous than scheduled within the offensive line room specifically.
This season, all the linemen get together with the quarterbacks for Thursday dinner. The running backs apparently found out and joined in once the weekly tradition began. Position coaches are welcomed but tend to leave that for the players.
"It's not one of those things where they go there, they eat and they're on their phones," Ledford said. "It's good conversations. It's them really getting to know each other.
"I think that they (have) a special bond with each other. I think the more connected you are, the better you can play as a unit. Jake is a great example of that. I know Jake knows that importance as well."
That knowledge comes from experience.
For example, the Falcons' starting offensive line in Super Bowl LI – Jake and Mack included – had started every 2016 regular-season game together. Atlanta boasted the No. 2 offense in total yards that year.
This season is still a work in progress – the Falcons rank 16th in that category through 11 games – but the offensive line has been a constant in the same way. From left to right, Jake, Matthew Bergeron, Drew Dalman, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary have started every game.
"One thing about Jake is he's always going to be calm, no matter what we go through in the game," said Bergeron, the Falcons' second-round draft pick this year. "Ups and downs, he's always going to be calm and composed. That's something I've learned from him: Not riding the waves, just being consistent."
That's the No. 1 word used to describe the three-time team captain: Consistent.
Other descriptors include warm and inviting, stoic and quiet, but also funny and jovial. He's never the loudest in the room, but he can sneak a laugh out of just about anyone.
"You couldn't ask for a better teammate," Lindstrom said. "He definitely has the respect out of everybody in the locker room and in the building."
There are only two players on the Falcons' current 53-man roster who have more overall experience than Jake's decade of NFL service. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell boasts 16 seasons on his resume. Running back Cordarrelle Patterson has 11 to his name.
Neither Campbell nor Patterson, though, have played in as many games as Jake since 2014. Campbell has appeared in 145 games. Patterson has done so in 147 games.
Jake's 156 of a possible 157 tops the board. That's good for 99.4% of all games played, an achievement few can claim.
"It's really impressive," said Mack, who played in 196 of a possible 209 games (93.8%) from 2009-21. "It just shows how hard he works, how important he takes his job and how he's always out there for his teammates. It'd be really easy to be banged up and decide that, 'Nah, I don't want to do that.'"
Jake did get banged up a few times along the way, too. He missed the one game his rookie season due to the ankle injury. That was his sole doubtful status on an injury report. Otherwise, he was questionable three times that year, all for the same reason.
In 2015, Jake was dubbed probable three times despite a back issue. A knee problem made him questionable once in 2016 and once in 2020.
That's it. Through the 157 games, Jake received an injury status nine times. He ultimately played through all but the one.
"I don't care what position you play. I don't care what sport you play," Yates said. "Being able to be injury-free for 10 years, it's usually not luck."
It's proper preparation year-round.
Jake learned from his father at a young age the importance of taking care of his body. And who better to learn from than Bruce? He played in 296 of a possible 304 games (97.4%) for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1983-2001, and those eight absences were solely because of a contract dispute. Bruce retired amid a 229-game consecutive start streak of his own.
"My biggest thing was, you've got to be in as good of shape as you can be and be strong as you can be," Bruce said. "That didn't guarantee anything, any kind of success on the field. But I do know that if you aren't in as good of shape as you can be or as strong as you can be, it sure heightens the potential for injury."
Jake was 9 years old when Bruce hung up his cleats at 40. During Bruce's final offseasons, his four sons would workout with him. That instilled Jake's work ethic because, around that time, he also began playing football.
Fast forward, Bruce was Jake's offensive line coach at Elkins High School in Missouri City, Texas. He transitioned from quarterback to his current position group as a sophomore and never looked back.
"He was very curious about how he could get better and (was) always asking questions," Bruce said. "He just had a strong desire to do it the right way. There never was, like, us butting heads or anything on it."
That desire to be the best still lives within Jake, now 31 years old. Not only does he refuse to take a veteran rest day, he won't sit out reps in practice. He doesn't hold back on strength training and goes to Pilates once a week for balance. He chooses to foam roll rather than receive massages.
Those around Jake give him a hard time about his constant seriousness, but it's out of admiration more than anything.
"If I was a young player joining the Falcons," Mack said, "you should immediately look to see what Jake is doing to stay healthy and perform at a high level – and you should copy everything he's doing."
With the way Jake's career has gone, advice about how he goes about his job day-in and day-out can't be given. It seems as close to foolproof as humanly possible.
No notes. No corrections. No suggestions.
"If I had to go back in time and tell him anything, I would not say a word," Yates said. "Don't change a thing."
Said Mack: "If it's not broke, don't fix it."
Said Bruce: "Don't mess with what's working."
Those comments alone speak volumes because Jake isn't stagnant. Far from it.
"He gets better and better with each day and with each year," Ledford said. "It's pretty special."
Breaking the record could very well be just the beginning. Bruce wouldn't be surprised if Jake tops his own 229-game start streak. Jake certainly has the dedication and determination to break the family streak.
He'd do so by flying under the radar.
"I think his greatest quality is that he never gets mentioned," Bruce said. "I know the coaches, and there never has to be a conversation about the left tackle, like, 'Is Jake going to show up this week?' There's never a conversation about, 'Well, can we do that on the left side?' Because Jake is there. They know he's a very intuitive and athletic player.
"I think his greatest skill is showing up – and you not noticing him."
That could be seen as a double-edged sword.
Jake has been named to the Pro Bowl only once, in 2018. For comparison, Bruce was chosen 14 times. Mack was seven.
Jake has also never received an All-Pro honor, first- or second-team. Again, Bruce earned 10 nominations. Mack had three.
A lack of national recognition does not equate to a lack of internal appreciation.
"The people in that building know how valuable he is to the organization," Bruce said. "He's been a little frustrated by not getting some of the accolades, and I'm like, 'Man, the greatest endorsement you get is by the Falcons extending your contract. Because they don't do that for everybody.'"
Jake signed a three-year extension prior to the 2022 season, meaning he's locked in through 2024.
"Guys that do a job really well that aren't flashy? Don't take them for granted, especially in this league," head coach Arthur Smith said. "You could argue that he's literally one of the better picks of Falcons history when you get that kind of consistency."
Simply starting isn't enough, either. Jake must be a part of all the action.
Out of the 10,490 offensive snaps the Falcons have totaled in regular-season play since 2014, Jake has taken 10,239 of them. When one tally goes up, the other is bound to go with it. The output should hover around its current 97.6%, though, because Jake isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
"Jake makes us all better," Ledford said. "It's not just us as a team. He makes me better as a coach, makes his teammates better as players. We're very fortunate to have him."
That is why Jake's legacy is already in the making. It's not finished, by any means. No one would even hint that he's close to done.
But it's already noteworthy.
"The last 10 years of the Atlanta Falcons, you look to the left, Jake Matthews is there," Yates said. "No matter what. Hurt. Injured. Preseason. Postseason. Super Bowls. Anything. Whatever. He's there."