Prior to the 2013 season, he signed a five-year contract extension with the team worth up to $103.75 million dollars, making him the second-highest paid player in the NFL behind only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.
He was coming off an electric 2012 season in which he recorded career highs in passing yards, touchdown passes and total QBR and had led his team to the brink of a Super Bowl appearance. He also had the benefit of his safety blanket, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, agreeing to return for one final season.
Everything was set up for Ryan and the Falcons to take it one step further and play for a championship in February.
Those aspirations certainly haven't materialized, and Ryan has struggled to consistently perform like he did in 2012. He'll more than likely end the 2013 season with his highest number of interceptions as a pro (he currently sits at 14 through 14 games, which is tied with his career high) and more importantly, his Falcons have a record of just 4-10.
Wins and losses are all that matter in the NFL, but when you look past the losses and examine his raw stats, he hasn't been all that bad this year.
He's set the bar incredibly high for himself. With so many athletes, we as fans tend to fall victim to relativity: If a player follows up their best year as a pro with a slightly less impressive one, that player often draws criticism for their perceived regression.
In 2013, Ryan ranks 10th among NFL quarterbacks with a QBR of 63.1 (he was third in 2012). This still ranks him one spot ahead of Tom Brady, who is considered by some to be an MVP candidate. Ryan probably takes more blame for his team's abundance of losses than he should; many of them are largely a result of the Falcons 29th-ranked defense.
He's also been under immense pressure in the pocket, having already been sacked a career-high 34 times this year (his previous high was 28). The Falcons will need to address the struggles of their defense and their offensive line, but they should be able to improve through personnel shakeups in the offseason.
Significant injuries to his two favorite receivers have also been a major story in 2013. Julio Jones and Roddy White have collectively missed 15 games, and that number doesn't tell the entire story. White was used largely as a decoy in the first five games of the year, totaling just 14 catches in those contests.
No one could have predicted that Harry Douglas would be lead the team in reception yards at the beginning of the year, but Jones and White should should be at full strength going into 2014. Missing Jones in particular has been a big hit to Ryan, as he'd developed into his most formidable downfield threat and one of the top overall receivers in the NFL.
Through the first five years of his career, Ryan had racked up the most regular season wins of any quarterback in NFL history and trailed only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning in passing yards and touchdown passes.
He's an exceptional talent, and he's simply too talented to perform like anything other than the top-eight quarterback that he is. Don't be surprised when he gets back to shredding defenses and leading his team to victories in 2014.
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