Why Matt Ryan's Performance in His First Playoff Win Proves He Is Elite

Al BruceContributor IJanuary 15, 2013

Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) celebrates as he leaves the field after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 30-28 in the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

It's fitting that Matt Ryan dressed in sharp, courtroom-like attire for his postgame press conference after leading Atlanta to a 30-28 victory over the Seahawks on Sunday.  Ryan has been on trial for five long seasons in front of a jury of sports media personalities, avid football fans and casual sports enthusiasts alike.  Opening statements began soon after Ryan was drafted in 2008, when some jurors questioned Atlanta's decision to draft Ryan over LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. 

Almost five years later, the jury is still out on the face of Atlanta's franchise.  The question in front of Ryan's jury remains the same: Is Matt Ryan an elite NFL quarterback?

That's why everyone sitting in judgment of Matt Ryan's status among NFL quarterbacks tuned in to Sunday's game.  Matt Ryan would get a fourth opportunity to offer his own testimony to rebut the strongest evidence against him being an elite quarterback: his lack of production in the postseason. 

However, despite finally notching his first playoff win, Ryan's 250 yards (on 24-of-35 passing), three touchdowns and two interceptions only complicated the issue for many members of the jury.  Some jurors want to see more evidence from Ryan in this week's NFC Championship Game, while others are ready to proceed to closing arguments.

You can count me in with the latter.  Matt Ryan's performance on Sunday was the final piece of evidence as to where Matt Ryan belongs in the NFL's quarterback hierarchy, and I submit to you four reasons why there is no longer any doubt that Matt Ryan is an elite NFL quarterback.


1.  Matt Ryan's Playoff Win Validated His Regular-Season Success

It's not complicated.  Elite quarterbacks are considered elite in large part because they win more than their counterparts.  Now that Ryan has won a playoff game, it's time to finally appreciate his career win-loss record. 

With Sunday's win, Ryan's career win-loss record is 57-25 in games that he has started for the Falcons (includes playoffs, but excludes two Atlanta losses that Ryan missed with an injury in 2009).  That's a 69.5 percent winning percentage for all of the math majors out there.  In a league where wins and losses are often decided by mere inches, a quarterback who averages about seven wins for every 10 games played has certainly set himself apart from the rest of the pack. 

In order to accomplish such a feat, Matt Ryan must be elite.


2.  Matt Ryan's Team Responds to Him

Elite quarterbacks inspire their teammates and get the most out of them on the field.  “All the confidence in the world," Falcons kicker Matt Bryant said about Ryan (via ESPN). “He’s a great leader. No matter if we’re 30 points up or one point down. He’s the same guy. He’s always going to be calm. He’s going to come through. He’s going to do what he’s got to do to get us in the position to win."

Before Atlanta's game-winning drive, Ryan assured his offensive unit that there was enough time left for them to do what they had to do to win the game as long as they executed properly.  Ryan's teammates bought into that message, and we all witnessed the result.

In order to accomplish such a feat, Matt Ryan must be elite.


3.  Matt Ryan Knows How to Respond to Adversity

Elite quarterbacks and elite cornerbacks share one main trait in common: They both have short memories.  An elite NFL corner is not going to let the fact that he got beat for a touchdown affect his performance on the next defensive series.  Elite quarterbacks operate the same way after throwing interceptions.

Yes, Matt Ryan threw two interceptions in Sunday's game, but neither of them made him flinch.  Ryan answered the first interception with a touchdown drive, and he wasn't too timid with the football on Atlanta's game-winning drive in spite of his second interception either.  This was the same Matt Ryan who threw five picks (not all his fault) against Arizona in Week 11 before leading his team on a game-winning drive.  Ryan said it best himself. “Your past experiences kind of harden you,” he said (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). “They make you a little tougher in those types of situations."  Matt Ryan can handle adversity.

In order to accomplish such a feat, Matt Ryan must be elite.


4.  Matt Ryan Delivers in the Clutch

Elite NFL quarterbacks are like "go-to guys" in the NBA.  You want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line.  They don't call Matt Ryan "Matty Ice" (or "Matty Black Ice" according to Asante Samuel) for nothing.  Ryan has been doing his own Michael Jordan/Reggie Miller impersonations on the gridiron since his days at Boston College (ask Clemson fans).

Ryan's NFL career has been no different.  After getting the ball on his own 28-yard line with 25 seconds left in the game and two timeouts in his pocket, Ryan completed the two most important passes of his career when there was no room for error.  In doing so, Ryan put Atlanta in field-goal range so Matt Bryant could complete Ryan's 22nd game-winning drive of his career. 

Matt Ryan was great when the moment called for him to be great.

In order to accomplish such a feat, Matt Ryan must be elite.

The word "good" no longer describes Matt Ryan.  Let's call him what he is: elite.


All stats/records are from ESPN.com or ProFootballReference.com.

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