Guerry Clegg

Column: doubters fall away from Falcons’ Matt Ryan

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (2) embraces Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers after the NFC Championship on Sunday in Atlanta.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (2) embraces Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers after the NFC Championship on Sunday in Atlanta. AP

Where are they now?

Where are all those Matt Ryan doubters?

Where are the ones who didn’t just question whether he was a franchise quarterback, but questioned whether he was even a competent NFL quarterback any more? They mused that it was time for the Atlanta Falcons to look for a replacement.

Where are those who questioned not only his talent but his heart and his guts?

Wherever they are, they will be watching Ryan go head-to-head with maybe the greatest quarterback in history when the Falcons meet Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Ryan already has outplayed arguably the best quarterback in the game today when the Falcons knocked Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs.

“Yeah,” sceptics might argue, “but Aaron Rodgers didn’t fumble at the goalline. Aaron Rodgers didn’t drop passes. Aaron Rodgers didn’t miss blocks. Aaron Rodgers can’t play defense.”

Exactly.

And the same could be said for Ryan.

There’s only so much a quarterback can do, no matter how good or even great he is.

Yet, as his career plateaued, then actually regressed in 2015, the number of Ryan doubters multiplied exponentially. At one point early in Ryan’s career, NFL analyst Ron Jaworski rated him the fourth-best quarterback in the league, behind Brady, Rodgers and Peyton Manning. Two years later, Ryan had slipped to eleventh Jaworski’s list.

It got to the point that some writer – can’t remember who – suggested before this season that Ryan was “the worst quarterback in the NFC South.” That in itself is a bit slanted. Drew Brees is a future Hall of Famer. Cam Newton was the MVP last season. Jameis Winston has an MVP skill set.

It’s irrelevant. To me, the question never was where does Ryan rank in the league. Rather, the question was whom could the Falcons get that would be a definite upgrade?

Brady? Rodgers? Not happening. It’s not like a team can just go out and find another franchise quarterback.

Ryan was the first quarterback and third overall player picked in the 2008 draft by the Falcons. There have been 96 quarterbacks drafted since Ryan, beginning with Joe Flacco at 18th overall by the Baltimore Ravens. Nine of those quarterbacks were selected first or second overall in their respective drafts, so the Falcons wouldn’t have had a chance to take them anyway.

Only two of those 96 quarterbacks – Flacco and Seattle’s Russell Wilson – have won Super Bowls. Both were supported by historically great defenses. Only two others among those 96, Newton and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, have started in a Super Bowl.

The narrative has changed. Now the narrative is that Ryan needs to win the Super Bowl to establish himself as an elite quarterback.

So Dan Marino and Dan Fouts were not elite, but Trent Dilfer and Mark Rypien were?

Or it will be that Ryan is the beneficiary of the deepest group of skill players in the NFL. It doesn’t take Joe Montana to get the ball to Julio Jones.

I’d still take Brady or Rodgers over Ryan, simply because Brady may be the best ever and Rodgers probably will go down as one of the top 10 best.

But give me Matty Ice with 60 seconds to win a ball game – any game, against any team – and I’ll take my chances.

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