Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is two wins away from entering elite-club discussions alongside Petyon Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Forget the 13 victories he's already racked up in the 2012 regular season. Don't mention his 33-5 record inside the Georgia Dome.
That was last season.
The NFL playoffs usher in a new season. It's all about what you've done lately. One and done. Ryan's on the outside looking in at the elite. One and won. All those stats. All those wins in his first five seasons.
They'll be talked about. It's what happens when a leader has his team one win away from a world championship. To take a small step toward being in the elite, Ryan will have to acquire what Manning, Brady and Rodgers already have.
A Super Bowl appearance.
Ryan's numbers put him near the elite, at fifth or better in most statistical categories—including his 4,719 passing yards in the regular season, and his seven yards per pass and 295 passing yards per game. No one—not Manning, not Brady, not even Rodgers—has a better completion percentage than Ryan's 68.6 percent.
His leadership has led the Falcons' brain trust to putting the offense in his hands. He has more freedom to call plays at the line of scrimmage. His hands are on the wheel. His foot is on or off the throttle.
He's got more options in scheming his and his team's way down the field. It's Matt Ryan's offense and his decision to control the attack and its tempo, just like Manning, Brady and Rodgers. Freedom comes to a quarterback who has led his team to an NFL-record 56 wins in his first five seasons.
Ryan is the only quarterback to record four games with a 95 or greater QBR in a season—not once, but twice.
There's no doubting Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. His 32 touchdowns in 2012 is better than 27 of his fellow NFL signal-callers.
The victories, the seasons past—all establish a foundation for a successful career—a career that will list Matt Ryan's in the record books alongside names and numbers of those long forgotten heroes of yesteryear.
Demands from the elite are greater in a quarterback-driven league. Many have enlisted, few are elite. The jump from enlisted to elite for Matt Ryan begins with a run to the Super Bowl. It ends when he puts a ring on it.
Something Matt Ryan will do. The only question is when?