Atlanta Falcons: Fans Shouldn't Dwell on Matt Ryan's 'Elite' Status

Mike Foster@michaelsfosterCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after throwing a 20-yard touchdown to wide receiver Julio Jones #11 in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Matt Ryan (Boston College) and Joe Flacco (Deleware) were both drafted in the same class in 2008, leading to years upon years of inevitable comparison. 

Since they've arrived, both quarterbacks have helped solidify a winning foundation with their respective organizations, the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.

The most staggering difference between the two, however, is the fact Flacco owns a far superior playoff record than Ryan (9-4 vs. 1-4). Flacco's recent Super Bowl championship definitely helps his case as well, along with the fact he had a 117.2 quarterback rating this postseason.

Falcons fans shouldn't try to engage with Ravens fans in claiming that Ryan is the better quarterback. In fact, if they try right now, they might lose. 

Being a great quarterback has always been about getting postseason wins. Peyton Manning's apparent ineptitude in the playoffs held back the discussion of him being arguably the best quarterback of all time until he finally earned a Super Bowl victory in 2006.

Ryan, to this point, has started down the same path as Manning. Flacco doesn't have as many rings as Tom Brady, but his postseason success has definitely presented him in a similar light.

So much, in fact, that his agent believes he deserves to be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL (via profootballtalk). 

Flacco will become a free agent this offseason and will undoubtedly negotiate a deal with the Ravens to stay in Baltimore. 

Matt Ryan is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, yet it's also pretty set in stone that he will seek a new deal this offseason as well. 

Ryan won't come out as one of the top paid quarterbacks in the NFL. If Flacco leverages his way into that discussion, he's got a hell of an agent. 

Playoff record and future bundles of cash aside, the next deviation of information that a Flacco-advocate will throw out there is that a 6'6" frame and rocket arm mean endless potential. Hell, after watching the Super Bowl, it's really hard to argue against Flacco.

But anyone who's been talking down Ryan as not fitting into the conversation hasn't been paying much attention.

Ryan's four playoff losses include losses in 2008 to the Arizona Cardinals (played in and almost won Super Bowl), 2010 to the Green Bay Packers (won Super Bowl), 2011 to the New York Giants (won Super Bowl) and 2012 to the San Francisco 49ers (played in and almost won Super Bowl).

Flacco, on the other hand, saw early playoff success in his first three years against teams like Miami, Tennessee, Kansas City and Houston. He didn't fare so well against Pittsburgh, Indianapolis or New England.

Sure, it might seem shallow to do brand comparisons and say one quarterback had it tougher than the other, but the point trying to be made is that there's so many factors that go into playoff records (like where you begin, who your opponent is, etc.) that it can be unfair to judge solely on it.

Matt Ryan led the Falcons to 13-3 seasons twice. As a No. 1 seed, the Falcons played the three hottest teams in the NFL (Green Bay, Seattle, San Francisco).

Ryan was just 10 yards away from beating San Francisco and making it to a Super Bowl on his own. Flacco needed a Hail Mary (granted, what a hell of a throw) to get past Peyton Manning and the Broncos this year. 

Flip a coin, and we would could be calling Matt Ryan great right now. 

At least, that's what the national media would pick up on. 

The truth is, it doesn't matter whether Ryan is better than Flacco, or Flacco is better than Ryan, despite the fact the debate will shadow the two until they leave the league, if not longer. 

Falcons fans know just how great Matt Ryan is, and that's really all that matters.

Because, being better than another quarterback isn't criteria for winning a Super Bowl. You simply have to be good enough to get your team there.

Here's where the argument becomes a bit clearer. It's pretty obvious some quarterbacks have what it takes to get their team to the Super Bowl, and some simply don't.

Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are mentioned as elite for a reason: they've won the rings. Enter Joe Flacco.

This cluster of quarterbacks can't all win Super Bowls at the same time. Sometimes you simply have to wait for your turn. 

Matt Ryan, you've been invited.

Just how capable is Ryan? Well, this postseason he finished with a 105.2 quarterback rating in the postseason against the vaunted defenses of the Seahawks and 49ers.

This season he broke franchise records for passing touchdowns (32) and yards (4,719) in a single season. 

In Ryan's career, he's completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 127 touchdowns and just 60 interceptions (90.0 quarterback rating).

Flacco's quarterback rating for his career is 86.3, and it was only 87.7 this season. Does this contrast of information make the argument that Flacco is a lesser quarterback?

The answer is simply no. The answer here is that a handful of great quarterbacks this season entered the postseason and only one made it out alive. That doesn't mean the other quarterbacks in the crop aren't great for losing.

Yes, Ryan had a fumbled snap that arguably was the turning point in the NFC Championship, but he still nearly led his team to victory. He displayed he's capable. If you look at Matt Ryan's postseason stats, without looking in the win-loss column, you see a guy that was remarkable.

Remarkable, he was. It's a shame that a few of his own mistakes sent the Falcons packing, but if fans in Atlanta know anything, it's that this quarterback has everything needed to make it to the Super Bowl.

If he's in Atlanta long enough, he's eventually going to get one too.

That's all that matters. No stats. No playoff records. No specs or arm velocity. 

If you dwell on comparisons from one quarterback to another, you bastardize the production of the signal-caller without hardware.

The debate isn't whether Ryan is better than Flacco. It isn't whether he has a ring or not.

The question is, can Ryan get a ring to Atlanta before his career is over?

Ask any Falcons fan and the answer will undoubtedly be yes. He has the same "it factor" every other "elite" quarterback has. 

Anyone who argues against that hasn't paid enough attention to realize the rise of this franchise has all been on Ryan's shoulders. In a professional league where the quarterback is more important than the head coach, Ryan is the most coveted asset this franchise has ever had.

Let the outside media and talking heads hammer down Ryan's accolades. Once Ryan hoists a Lombardi trophy, the conversations won't matter.

That's what Joe Flacco learned this season. That's what it's all about. 


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