When Matt Ryan led the Atlanta Falcons to a 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs, it marked progress.
I'll put that out there right away, because Ryan's doubters are inevitably going to say he's "not a winner" or something of that nature after the 28-year-old signed a five-year extension worth $103.75 million on Thursday, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
Ryan's regular-season play certainly backs up the deal. He's passed for 127 touchdowns to 60 interceptions in his first five years in the league and ranked in the top 10 in yards per pass attempt last season, as he tossed 32 touchdowns to 14 interceptions.
The Pennsylvania native ranks sixth all-time in pass interception percentage, according to Pro-Football-Reference. He also ranks ninth all-time in passing yards per game (243.0) and 12th all-time in quarterback rating (90.1).
Last season is when it really came together for Ryan both in the regular season and in the playoffs. He not only led the Falcons to a 13-3 record in the regular season, but he also picked up his first career playoff win.
In the victory over the Seahawks, Ryan passed for 250 yards with three touchdowns to two interceptions while completing 69 percent of his passes. It also signified the fifth fourth-quarter comeback of the season for the Falcons with Ryan leading the way. Ryan led the Falcons on a three-play, 41-yard drive in 23 seconds to set up Matt Bryant's 49-yard, game-winning field goal with eight seconds remaining.
In the Falcons' next game against the San Francisco 49ers, Ryan was even better, passing for 391 yards with three touchdowns to one interception, but the Falcons ended up losing that game, 28-24.
Before last season, questions about Ryan's ability to win were relevant. After all, he was 0-3 in the playoffs before last season. He averaged 5.0 yards per pass attempt while tossing two touchdowns to two interceptions against the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 playoffs. He averaged 6.4 yards per pass attempt while tossing one touchdown to two interceptions against the Green Bay Packers in 2011. And he averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt while tossing zero touchdowns against the New York Giants in 2012.
But the Falcons aren't paying the two-time Pro Bowler all this money for what he did in the past overall. They are paying him this much money for what he can do in the future, right?
In that sense, this deal, well, makes sense. The improvements Ryan showed last season, particularly in the playoffs, granted the 28-year-old this hefty contract, and deservedly so.
The Falcons made Ryan a rich(er) man because they recognized the progress that he had made. If he continues progressing like this, they are going to be happy they did.