What Happened to Falcons QB Matt Ryan?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 27, 2014

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Do you remember when Matt Ryan was really good?

Go back to his rookie year of 2008, when he started for the Atlanta Falcons. He threw for over 3,000 yards and had 17 touchdowns (16 passing, one rushing). Ryan was one of just two quarterbacks in history to make the postseason after starting all 16 games as a rookie. The other was Joe Flacco, who also did it that season. Good company.

Ryan could make every throw. The deep ones. The short ones. The touch passes. The rockets. He could do it all. Ryan was praised for his calmness. His study habits. His coachability.

Ryan earned one of the coolest nicknames in the NFL: "Matty Ice."

"When he jumped into the huddle the first time and got our attention, everyone was kind of shocked, like, 'The rookie's talking to us like this,'" then-Falcons center Todd McClure told ESPN's Anna K. Clemmons in 2008. "But we respected him right away."

Everyone did. I remember predictions from both media and football personnel that Ryan would win multiple Super Bowls.

Those times seem like so long ago.

That Ryan—the old Ryan—is gone. There has been an inexplicable metamorphosis with him, a de-evolution into a player who at times is almost unrecognizable. His third-quarter interception against the Lions on Sunday was Geno Smith-ian. The only person near the football when Ryan threw it was Lions defensive back Cassius Vaughn. There was no Falcons receiver within several time zones.

The play changed the game and, perhaps, the course of the Falcons' destiny. Atlanta was leading 21-10 at the time, and even though the Falcons defense held Detroit to three points, the momentum had changed. The Falcons' lead, which was 21-0 at the half, was cut down to 21-13.

That interception, one day in the near future, will perhaps be seen as the one Ryan mistake that doomed the current coaching regime. Falcons head coach Mike Smith is one of the quality people in the sport. Truly, one of the nicest, most talented people in the NFL. But Ryan will likely doom him.

When quarterbacks play this horribly, it's not usually the quarterbacks that get fired. It's the coaches. While Atlanta's division is putrid—and because of that the Falcons could find salvation—there's little reason to believe Ryan can save himself or Smith.

This quote from Falcons owner Arthur Blank was highly ominous: "You're up 21-0. There's no way you lose that game—just no way. There's nothing else I can say."

That's not good. That's not good at all. Neither is the fact Atlanta has lost five straight.

What's happened to Ryan? What's the difference between that Good Matt and the Bad Matt now? The theories from team executives around the NFL are numerous, and many involve poor offensive line play. Another theory says Ryan is actually injured and the Falcons are hiding it (not buying that one).

Matt Ryan career stats
YearCmp%YardsTD-INTRatingW-L
200861.1%3,44016-1187.711-5
200958.3%2,91622-1480.99-5
201062.5%3,70528-991.013-3
201161.3%4,17729-1292.210-6
201268.6%4,71932-1499.113-3
201367.4%4,51526-1789.64-12
201464.9%2,30615-893.12-6
pro-football-reference.com

The problem is the Falcons' line play was fine in the first half and that ridiculous interception Ryan threw had nothing to do with pressure. That was all Ryan.

It's also true that while Atlanta's defense recently has been horrible, it's hard to rip it when it shut out the Lions for a half to give the Falcons offense a 21-point lead.

The prevailing Ryan theory is the most believable. It is this: Maybe we all overstated just how good he was to start with.

It's possible we've gotten Ryan all wrong. Maybe he's incapable of carrying a team. Maybe he's not Ben Roethlisberger. Maybe he's more Jay Cutler than we think.

That may seem harsh, but look at the evidence. Since making the NFC title game after the 2012 season, the Falcons are 6-18.

That's not all Ryan. But it's enough.

Do you remember when Matt Ryan was really good?

I do. Seems like so long ago.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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