Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wowed the NFL throughout the 2008 season. The first pass he threw resulted in a 61-yard touchdown. He won four of his first six starts. With Ryan at the helm, the Falcons finished the season a surprising 11-5. They had also earned an NFC Wild Card playoff spot.
Although the Falcons bowed out of the postseason in the first round, it didn't diminish Ryan's regular season accomplishments.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme didn't impress anyone in 2008. His job was to hand off to DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart and make sure he didn't hurt the rest of the team too badly. The Panthers had a successful season, but that was largely because of a dynamic rushing attack which was among the best in the league.
But in their Division Round playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers choked in their own stadium, where they had played so well for the entire season. Delhomme turned the ball over six times in this game, and although the porous defense had just as much to do with the loss as Delhomme, all the blame was placed on Delhomme's shoulders.
It didn't matter that the Panthers had had a great season. Delhomme had ended the Panthers' first legitimate run to the Super Bowl since 2005 before it even got started. That one playoff performance stigmatized the Panthers' entire season.
This upcoming season Matt Ryan is expected to have an even better season than in 2008, and many experts predict the Falcons to win the NFC South with Ryan under center.
Delhomme won't be the focus of attention in the Panthers' offense in 2009. But many still consider him the weak point of a team possibly on the cusp of becoming a true contender. This nit-pick isn't justified. Let's compare Ryan, the up-and-coming star, to Delhomme, the weak link in an otherwise strong Panthers offense.
Ryan is entering his second season in the NFL after starting all 16 games in 2008.
Delhomme is entering his sixth season as Carolina's starter. However, he missed 13 games due to injury in 2007. He was also hurt for three games in 2006.
Delhomme has technically been in the NFL since 1998. But before 2003, when he started everything but the first half of the season opener, he had started two games in his career. 2003 was his unofficial rookie year.
Despite the fact that Delhomme is 34, he doesn't have years and years of NFL experience like most starting quarterbacks his age have. While Delhomme isn't still learning to play in the NFL, he can't make plays based on experience like other veteran NFL quarterbacks can.
No. 17 also played professionally in Europe for a few years prior to breaking into the NFL. But foreign pro football isn't the same as the NFL.
Because Ryan has less experience his mistakes are more forgivable. While Delhomme has been in the league longer, he still isn't exactly a grizzled NFL veteran.
Ryan has excellent composure. He led the Falcons on three game-winning drives in 2008. In addition, he always stood tall in the pocket and took hits to make plays.
Ask any Panthers fan who he wants to lead a drive that could score an important touchdown late in the game. He will say Jake Delhomme, who has guided the Panthers to 15 comeback wins on late drives since 2003.
Ryan had great poise for a rookie. But Delhomme is a proven reliable performer in crunch time.
Ryan had arguably the best running back in the league and one of the best offensive lines overall in the NFL. Michael Turner (and Jerious Norwood) helped keep defenses honest, and the offensive line gave him plenty of time to find open receivers. Most NFL receivers can get open if they get enough time.
Delhomme also had one of the best rushing games and offensive lines in the NFL. But he didn't have his top receiver, Steve Smith, for the first two games of the regular season.
Both guys had more or less the same amount of support from his teammates.
Ryan completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,440 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) in 2008. He threw 16 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Ryan completed 157 passes for first downs, and he had a passer rating of 87.7.
In his five seasons as a full starter, Delhomme has, on average, completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,324 yards (7.4 yards per attempt) 21 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. His mean passer rating is 84.7.
Ryan did well in his first year as an NFL starter. Delhomme's average numbers aren't great, but they are by no means bad.
As any Panthers fan will tell you, Delhomme has a true competitor's attitude which infects all his teammates, inclining them to give their best each second of every game. He also has an uncanny knack for finding Steve Smith, Carolina's best receiver.
Ryan has a quiet calm about him which keeps his teammates cool and collected in pressure situations.
Matt Ryan and Jake Delhomme are a lot alike. The only differences between the two rival quarterbacks is personality and experience. Either Ryan is overhyped, or Delhomme doesn't deserve all the criticism he deals with.