Ryan’s precedent-setting drop with Falcons could be a one-time thing
Last year, Atlanta's Matt Ryan (sacked 44 times) became the 10th quarterback of the Super Bowl era to produce double-digit victories one season (2012) and then lose 12 or more games the following season (2013) -- while starting every game of that losing campaign.
ATLANTA — In just six seasons with the Falcons, Matt Ryan is already the franchise’s all-time leader with wins (60), home victories (36), completions (2,093) and yards passing (23,472 — eclipsing Steve Bartkowski by two yards).
Ryan (153 passing TDs) could also own the club passing touchdowns record (154, Bartkowski) by halftime of Week 1, if he catches fire early against the Saints in the season opener.
In other words, Ryan’s place in Falcons history is secure. And as time marches on, he’ll redoubtably serve as the gold standard for how all Atlanta quarterbacks are judged … especially when factoring in how a healthy Ryan — who won’t turn 30 until May 2015 — could easily play another seven or eight NFL seasons (if not more).
That’s the good news. Now for the incredulous portion of this piece:
In the Super Bowl era, Matt Ryan is the only NFL quarterback to pilot his team to 11 or more victories one season … and then lead the same club to four or less wins the next year — while starting every game of that losing campaign.
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To demonstrate the uniqueness of Ryan’s one-year plunge, here’s a listing of nine QBs from the Super Bowl era to post double-digit wins one year and then flop miserably (team-wise) the next, while starting every game from that downtrodden season:
The Bucs enjoyed an Impossible Dream kind of season in 1979, winning the NFC Central (10-6 overall) and reaching the NFC title game (only to lose 9-0 to the Rams at home) — just two years after the expansion franchise dropped its first 26 games in 1976 and ’77.
As such, it’s only natural Tampa Bay would have a regression to the mean in 1980, with the Bucs losing 10 of their final 13 games — despite strong numbers from Williams (3,396 yards passing, 24 total TDs).
Fast forward to 1981, as the Browns limped to a 5-11 finish (dead last in the division), a hangover consequence of the club’s devastating playoff loss to the Raiders from the previous January … when Sipe (3,876 yards passing, 17 TDs in ’81) threw a red-zone interception in the final seconds.
(Cleveland was in position for a game-winning field goal against Oakland — although it was a 50-50 proposition, given the extreme-cold/high winds conditions at old Municipal Stadium.)
Jaworski was a certifiable star for the Eagles during the 1980 and ’81 campaigns, passing for 6,600-plus yards and 50 combined touchdowns in that two-year span.
But things started going downhill for Philly during the strike-shortened season of 1982, with the Eagles slumping to 3-6.
Oddly enough, if that work-stoppage year had included 16 games, Jaworski (2,076 yards, 12 TDs in nine starts) might have been a candidate for his only 4,000-yard passing season.
But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
In 1982, Montana passed for 2,613 yards and 17 TDs in nine games … but struggled to lift the 49ers from the doldrums of a 3-6 season.
The dreaded "championship hangover" might have had something to do with it, too, as San Francisco rolled to a 13-3 record in Montana’s first full year as the starter (1981) … while also claiming the first of five Super Bowl titles for the franchise (1981-94).
Everett (34,837 career passing yards, 203 TDs) will likely never be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, but he’s on a very-short list of NFL quarterbacks with the following stat:
In 1989, Everett produced the only 4,000-yard passing season of his career, while rolling for 30 total touchdowns (29 passing). As such, the Rams advanced to that year’s NFC title game … only to get crushed by the eventual champion 49ers.
The following season, amid high hopes of a championship breakthrough, the Rams mustered just a 5-11 campaign, even though Everett threw for 3,989 yards and 23 TDs and made the only Pro Bowl appearance of his career.
Say hello to perhaps the darkest period of John Elway’s decorated Hall of Fame career in Denver.
In 1989, Elway (3,051 yards, 21 total TDs) led the Broncos to their third Super Bowl berth of the 1980s. But a 55-10 loss to the 49ers (SB XXIV) took the starch out of that successful campaign (Elway rested the regular-season finale).
One year later, Denver fell flat with a 5-11 record, which included 1-9 stretch from late September to early December. Amid the Broncos’ overall ineptitude, Elway still accounted for 3,526 yards passing and 18 total TDs.
The 2004 Packers (10-6 overall) opened the season 1-4 and then fought furiously to make the playoffs — before falling to the Vikings at home during the Wild Card round (the infamous Randy Moss "mooning" of the Lambeau Field goalpost).
The following year, Favre (3,881 yards passing, 20 TDs) had to endure a substantial roster overhaul — including the drafting of first-round QB Aaron Rodgers — and a plodding 4-12 campaign, as Green Bay’s offense tallied 23 points or less 12 times.
The 2007 Jaguars don’t get enough respect, when contemplating some of this century’s best teams to not win the Super Bowl.
With Garrard primarily under center, the Jaguars notched a rock-solid 11-5 record and put up an admirable fight against the 16-0 Patriots during the Divisional Playoff round. In fact, of Jacksonville’s final 12 games from that ’07 regular season, the offense amassed 24 or more points 11 times.
In 2008, however, all that goodwill vanquished, as Jacksonville slumped to 5-11 — despite strong showings from Garrard (3,942 total yards, 17 TDs) and tailback Maurice Jones-Drew (1,389 total yards, 14 TDs).
The 2009 Bengals had a balanced attack, with Cedric Benson (1,362 total yards, six TDs), Chad Johnson (72 catches, 1,047 yards, nine TDs), Bernard Scott, Larry Johnson and receiver Laveranues Coles (514 receiving yards, five TDs) routinely taking the pressure off Palmer (3,094 yards, 21 TDs).
As a result, Cincy cruised to a 10-6 record and the AFC North title.
So, what’s the point of today’s piece, other than acknowledging Ryan’s precedent-setting win-loss devolution from 2012-13?
Well, when listening to offseason sports radio (locally/nationally), talking to various media members (locally/nationally) and consulting a number of preseason magazines (real-world and fantasy), there seems to be a vast chasm of opinions (numbers-based and emotional) on whether the Falcons’ "championship window" has summarily closed.
And frankly, I can’t decide which side of the fence to straddle heading into training camp.
Yes, Julio Jones (season-ending foot injury) and Steven Jackson (hamstring) are back at full strength; and yes, the Falcons seemingly did a bang-up job of building up the trenches (offensive/defensive lines) during the offseason, through free agency and the draft.
But are these changes enough to overcome the litany of offensive foibles from last year (listed above)? And how will the defense break its unfortunate streak of 13 consecutive games of 100 rushing yards allowed (team)?
Here’s something to savor, though: Of the nine quarterbacks listed above, three passers (Montana, Elway, Favre) rallied from the one desultory season to have their respective clubs back in the conference title game within two years.