Flacco and Ryan Distorted the Perception of the Rookie Quarterback

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJanuary 27, 2009

As rookie quarterbacks in 2008, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons distorted the perception of the standard NFL rookie quarterback.

Ryan connected with receiver Michael Jenkins on his first regular season pass for a 62-yard touchdown.  That was just the first of much success to come for Ryan in his first year in the NFL. 

He threw 13 touchdowns to only six interceptions and earned a 99.6 passer rating in his first 12 games.  In addition, Ryan accumulated 2625 yards and completed 63.2 percent of his passes during that time.

Ryan helped the Falcons go finish the season 7-1 at home and 11-5 overall, good enough for a five-seed in the NFC playoffs and a Wild Card postseason game at the Arizona Cardinals.

The amazing thing is that Ryan led a 14-game, one-season turnaround—one of the greatest single-season team turnarounds in NFL history.  If the Dolphins hadn’t made the playoffs in 2008 after going 1-15 in 2007, the Falcons would have been the best story of 2008 in the NFL.

It’s rare that a rookie quarterback can take his team on a turnaround that big and make the playoffs. 

Joe Flacco didn’t have the immediate success of Ryan.  In fact, you could make the argument that he was flat-out bad and got bailed out by Baltimore’s defense and running game for the entire season.

But that’s not entirely true.

It is true that Flacco only threw 14 touchdown passes, completed a very average 60 percent of his passes, and compiled a passer rating of 80.3.  But he also only threw 12 interceptions.  And seven were thrown in or before Week Six—the time during which rookies are getting used to the NFL.

After Week Six, Flacco threw 13 touchdowns but only five interceptions.  He had learned his first few lessons about the NFL.  Along with one of the NFL’s best defenses and running games, he led the Ravens to a 9-2 finish and the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.  This earned them a date with the Miami Dolphins on early Sunday afternoon of Wild Card weekend.

But the Flacco and the Ravens’ incredible season didn’t stop there.

They stomped the Dolphins, 27-9, in the first round, and then outlasted the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in a trademark grind-it-out playoff game, 13-10.  A week later, however, their journey to the Super Bowl ended with a 23-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite not playing spectacularly throughout the season, and being the more reserved rookie quarterback, Flacco still led his team well enough (particularly in the playoffs, where he often looked like a 10-year veteran until AFC Championship Game) to acquire a spot in the AFC Championship Game.

Only once in a blue moon do two rookie quarterbacks experience as much success as Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco did in 2008.  For that reason the two field generals have distorted the perception of the average NFL rookie quarterback, and have raised the bar for all rookie QBs to come.