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COMMENTARY: Ryan leaves legacy like no other for Falcons
matt-ryan-ap
Matt Ryan spent 14 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, earning the NFL MVP award in 2016 and leading his team to an appearance in Super Bowl LI. (Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press)

Just four days after news broke that Freddie Freeman had officially ended his time with the Atlanta Braves, the Falcons announced that they traded longtime quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round draft pick.

The four-time Pro Bowler and 2016 NFL MVP led the Falcons to six playoff appearances in his 14 seasons in Atlanta, including a trip to Super Bowl LI following his MVP campaign.

Ryan’s journey with the Falcons has been one of highs and lows, but his legacy in Atlanta will hold firm for years to come. 

Ryan helped lift Atlanta out of the long shadow of the Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick scandals, taking over the reins on day one.

Drafted in 2008 out of Boston College, Ryan was handed the unenviable task of being the prospective starting quarterback for a team that had come off a 4-12 season, whose longtime quarterback was in prison, and whose previous coach left the team during the previous season without so much as a verbal notice.

Somehow, Ryan and first-year head coach Mike Smith combined with Michael Turner, Michael Jenkins and Roddy White to jumpstart a previously immobile Falcons offense. 

On the first pass in the first game of Ryan’s career, he threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins. From that point forward, Ryan would cement himself as the franchise quarterback, winning the 2008 AP NFL Rookie of the Year award as well.

His first four seasons would see three playoff appearances, a first Pro Bowl selection and the addition of first-round draft pick Julio Jones, who with Ryan would forge one of the most formidable quarterback-wide receiver duos in the NFL.

It was in Ryan’s fifth season that he would establish himself as a superstar quarterback. 

In 2012, Ryan threw for 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and led the league with a 68.6 percent passing completion mark. He did all of that while leading the Falcons to their first NFC Championship game appearance since after the 1998 season.

While the team fell short in that game and would face a brief rebuilding period, Ryan continued to play as the best quarterback not named Brady, Brees, Manning or Rodgers.

The high point of Ryan’s career came in 2016, when the Falcons put together all the pieces necessary for a deep playoff run.

In that season, Ryan would set career-high marks in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating to lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history.

While Atlanta fell victim to the scoreline that shall not be named, Ryan would be rewarded after the season with the MVP accolade for his efforts.

After one more playoff appearance the next season, the Falcons would stagnate into mediocrity while Ryan made every effort to paper over the ever-widening cracks in the offense. 

He continued to throw over 4,000 yards regularly despite taking an increasing number of hits. The recent decline in the team’s fortunes has been due in part to a lack of offensive line support, with Ryan taking at least 40 sacks in each of the last four seasons.

Now approaching the twilight of his career, Ryan is also approaching a career total of 60,000 passing yards. He needs just 265 more yards to become only the eighth quarterback in NFL history to reach this milestone.

With the sudden news of his trade making the news, it will take some time to properly digest the impact Ryan had on the franchise. 

But for now, it is clear that his talent, durability and consistency allowed Atlanta to become a contender for several years. His impact helped reverse the fortunes of a franchise that was only months removed from arguably its lowest point.

And one Sunday evening five years ago, he brought the Falcons closer to glory than it had ever been.