Matt Ryan has played in 174 games during his NFL career. He has missed just two games since starting as a rookie in 2008. During that time, Ryan has thrown 6,201 passes, he’s run the ball by design or scramble 384 times and been sacked 321 times. That adds up to 6,906 snaps under center.
We’re not going to talk about any of those nearly 7,000 snaps though.
We’re going to talk about snap No. 6,907. The one where he caught a pass – and did he ever make that one count.
Atlanta closed out the first half of its season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a touchdown drive but trailed 17-7 when they received the opening kickoff of the second half. The offense drove down the field and the Falcons found themselves in a goal-to-go situation from the Bucs 6-yard line 11 plays later.
After an incompletion by Ryan and a 1-yard run on a direct snap to Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta was staring at third-and-goal from the 5.
The Falcons scored touchdowns in 70.4 percent of their goal-to-go situations in 2018, which was a touch below the NFL average of 73.5 percent. There is some statistical evidence that suggests it becomes more difficult to score once you get to the five. With a season worth of low red zone chances in mind, Atlanta got creative in a crucial moment in the season finale.
With Ryan in the shotgun and Tevin Coleman in the backfield to his left, the Falcons lined up in a three-receiver set with Sanu, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley to the left while Austin Hooper aligned on the line of scrimmage to the right. Prior to the snap, Ridley motioned into the backfield and came set to Ryan’s right. Ryan handed the ball off to Ridley, who ran to the left, taking much of the Bucs defense with him.
As Ridley moved across the field, Coleman teamed up with Jake Matthews to block Vinny Curry, allowing Sanu to work his way into the backfield. Ridley flipped the ball to Sanu, drawing in Jason Pierre-Paul, and floated a pass toward the right pylon and a wide-open Ryan for a 5-yard touchdown. In the words of Chris Berman, “Touchdown catch? Matt Ryan? Huh?”
To say Ryan was wide open is honestly a little bit of an understatement. When the ball left Sanu’s hand, Pierre-Paul was the closest Buccaneer to Ryan at 10.07 yards away and he was facing the wrong direction as he was trying to corral the wideout turned QB. Ryan had more than 15 yards of green grass between the nearest defender that could have prevented the score, Ryan Smith.
By the time Ryan caught the pass at the 4-yard line, Smith was still 9.06 yards away which allowed the 11-year vet to walk into the end zone for his first career receiving touchdown. According to Ryan, it was the first pass he’d caught grade school before he made the switch to quarterback. Take a look:
“I had to draw back on playing for the Downingtown Young Whippets in like third and fourth grade when I was playing tight end to go out there and make that catch,” said Ryan.
His pee-wee football teammates would be impressed to learn the former tyke tight end covered 28.16 total yards and reached a top speed of 15.01 mph – the fastest of any Falcons players on the play. When he looked the ball into his hands, Ryan had covered more than 22 yards from where he was standing at the snap.
While Ryan’s prowess as a pass catcher is newfound, Sanu’s dual-threat ability is a well-known weapon. The former high school quarterback and Cincinnati Bengal (pictured above) has completed seven of the eight passes he has attempted in the NFL, racking up 233 yards and four touchdowns while boasting a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
His scoring strike to Ryan was the second TD he’s thrown as a Falcon, but the degree of difficulty didn’t quite match his 51-yard bomb to Jones in 2017. According to Next Gen Stats, the pass had a completion probability of 88.9 percent. Of course, that’s not accounting for who the receiver is but we all knew Ryan would catch that pass right?
Sanu lofted the ball 23.5 yards in the air, but it only traveled .3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. It took 3.14 seconds from the time the ball was snapped until Sanu released the pass to Ryan.
While Ryan isn’t likely to add much to his receiving totals in the future, he became the 22nd QB and the first since 2016 to record a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the same season.
Ryan is also the first quarterback in franchise history to catch a touchdown pass. Only Chris Chandler (pictured above) caught a pass from another player, wide receiver Tim Dwight, in team annals while a handful of Falcons signal-callers have caught passes that were tipped back to themselves.
Ryan spent much of the 2018 season climbing the ladder of all-time greats. He finished the year by passing Carson Palmer for the 12th-most TD passes in league history with 295. He also ranks 12th in career passing yards and ranks 10th in completions. Now, with one touchdown catch, he ranks tied for 3068th (or 19th among QBs) joining fellow Falcons like offensive lineman Mike Johnson on the illustrious list of NFL players with one touchdown catch.
In fact, Ryan is the 165th player in franchise history to catch a touchdown pass. He has thrown touchdowns to 40 of those players.