Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan is no stranger to debate. During his first five years in the league, Ryan's status among the NFL's current elite has been a never-ending discussion. Ryan is weighed and measured by all-time greats like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. A lack of postseason hardware and NFL records will perpetuate the discussion.
But how does the view of Ryan change when viewed through the prism of Atlanta Falcons history?
Are the Falcons truly witnessing their greatest of all time, or is Ryan just the right guy at the right time?
The Falcons do not have a storied history in terms of drafting quarterbacks. Steve Bartkowski was drafted in 1975. The Falcons would not draft another franchise-caliber quarterback until Michael Vick in 2001. Seven years later, the Falcons would hit paydirt with Matt Ryan.
Of course, the Falcons did draft one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Brett Favre. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Favre drank himself out of Atlanta.
The Falcons have brought in more seasoned players with little success as well. Chris Chandler led the team to its only Super Bowl appearance before relinquishing his job to Vick. Jeff George had prolific stats that were overshadowed by the fans' disdain for him.
Bartkowski and Vick are still adored with certain segments of the Falcons' fanbase. Ryan might win them over before his career is through.
Saving a Franchise
Ryan was drafted into a unique situation. The Falcons were coming apart at the seams. Michael Vick had gone from superstar to convicted felon. The "next great coach" Bobby Petrino had a midnight exit that would make the Baltimore Colts blush. Owner Arthur Blank had just wiped the slate clean by hiring a rookie head coach and a rookie general manager.
Now, the Falcons would have a rookie quarterback as well.
Overshadowed and underrated, Ryan would reverse the curse. Ryan led the franchise to its most stable era in history. The Falcons had never had consecutive winning seasons. With Ryan, the Falcons would see five.
Here is a better visual comparison for every quarterback in franchise history versus Matt Ryan:
Zero versus back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
But Ryan cannot take all the credit. He was drafted at a time when the Falcons had given up on winning in the headlines. Instead, Blank had become solely focused on stability. The hiring of Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff changed the culture of the Falcons. Ryan would have more fertile ground to sew his legacy than those who came before him.
But the field did not plow itself, either.
The Book of Ryan
The Falcons' record book is beginning to look like Matt Ryan's diary. In his first five years, Ryan has developed a stranglehold on Falcons history. With every game he plays, Ryan seems to erase another name from the all-time passing leaders.
Ryan holds a plethora of single-season records. Ryan tops the list in passing yards (4,719, 2012), passing touchdowns (32, 2012), completions (422, 2012) and completion percentage (68.6, 2012).
And that is only a partial list.
But one season does not a career make, as they say. So where does Ryan stand among the competition all-time?
Ryan has the best career completion rate (62.7 percent), quarterback rating (90.9), 300-yard games (17) and interceptions per attempt ratio (2.3 percent).
There is only one name left for Ryan to own the record book.
Better Than Bartkowski?
Other than Tommy Nobis, Steve Bartkowski might be the most beloved player in Falcons history. Bartkowski was the undisputed greatest of all time before Ryan began his career. Like Ryan, Bartkowski held almost every career team-passing record.
But in five years, Ryan has closed in on what it took Bartkowski 11 years to build.
It is conceivable for Ryan to take what is left by the end of his sixth year.
In career passing yards, Ryan (18,957) trails Bartkowski (23,470) by 4,513. That margin is 194 yards fewer than Ryan threw in 2012.
In career touchdowns, it is even closer. Ryan (127) trails Bartkowski (154) by 27 touchdowns. Matt Ryan has thrown for more than 27 touchdowns every year since 2010.
Barring tragedy, Ryan will become the most prolific quarterback in Falcons history by the end of just his sixth season.
"Ice"-ing the Cake
When Ryan was drafted, Atlanta learned of the "Matty Ice" nickname. Ryan cemented that nickname during his rookie year. Ryan's last-second comeback against the Chicago Bears brought a new form of hope to the Falcons. For the first time in franchise history, they would be down but rarely out.
Ryan has more fourth-quarter comebacks than any quarterback in franchise history. Ryan's playoff comeback win against the Seattle Seahawks was merely an exclamation point on his proven track record.
In the regular season, Ryan is the most clutch quarterback the Falcons have ever seen.
Where Ryan's legacy suffers is in the playoffs. Oddly enough, Ryan's 1-4 playoff record is similar to Bartkowski's 1-3 playoff record.
Chris Chandler went 2-1 in his one postseason with the Falcons. Michael Vick went 2-2 during his two trips to the postseason.
To put that in perspective, Ryan has already taken the Falcons to the postseason more than any quarterback in franchise history. Also, he stands only one win behind the franchise's winningest postseason quarterbacks.
More To Come
Matt Ryan has accomplished more with the Atlanta Falcons than any quarterback in team history. This might be vital knowledge as Ryan and the Falcons begin work on a new contract. Ryan has shown improvement every year since joining the Falcons.
How do you negotiate with the best you have ever had when he is still improving?
It would be wise for the Falcons to remember this: This is not the beginning of the end, merely the end of the beginning.
(*Note: All stats provided by the Atlanta Falcons and NFL.com)
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