Super Bowl 51: Atlanta Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan’s amazing turnaround

Dec 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) celebrates after throwing a 64-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams during a NFL football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, Atlanta Falconsquarterback Matt Ryan appeared to be on a downward swing. Now he has his team in the Super Bowl. What changed?

Did anyone really see this coming? A year ago, the Atlanta Falcons got off to a great start and then did a fast fade. A 5-0 record was greeted with eight losses in their final 11 contests.

Combine a few new weapons and a key offseason signing to the offensive line. And Ryan and second-year offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are not only on the same page, they seemed to be writing new chapters together.

All told, the much-improved signal-caller is hitting on a blistering 69.9 percent of his throws. His regular season total of 4,944 yards is hard to ignore. Ryan is throwing more than five times as many touchdown passes (38) as interceptions (7) while losing only two fumbles. He was never picked off more than once in any game while he connected with 13 different players for scores.

And veteran quarterback Matt Ryan suffered through a very uneven year. In his eighth NFL campaign, he threw for 4,591 yards and just 21 touchdowns. He was also picked off 16 times and lost five of his 12 fumbles.

But before you could say “Rise Up” this season, 2016 was going to be a different year for the former Boston College standout and the third overall pick in the 2008 draft. Gone is last year’s disappointing finish. In is a quarterback distributing the football all over the field.

Meanwhile, All-Pro wideout Julio Jones benefits from the addition of free-agent pickups Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. That trio combined for 177 receptions and 16 scores through the air. Running backs Devonta Freeman (54) and Tevin Coleman (31) teamed for 85 grabs and five touchdown receptions. Ryan threw at least one touchdown pass in every contest and for two or more scores in 12-of-16 games.

On the other had, talk about erasing the stigma of those much-discussed playoff failures? This postseason, Ryan is on a seven-touchdown pass, zero-interception run. He and his team played turnover-free football and scored a combined 80 points in the wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

You may recall that the Falcons’ quarterback was 1-4 as a starter in the playoffs entering 2016. Atlanta missed the postseason the previous three seasons since the club lost the 2012 NFC title game at home to the 49ers. In five previous playoff outings, Ryan’s nine scoring tosses were offset by 10 total turnovers (seven interceptions and three lost fumbles) and he was sacked 11 times.

So will Ryan’s amazing turnaround season conclude with a Super Bowl title on Sunday? The Atlanta Falcons have their work cut out for them against the AFC champion and Super Bowl-tested New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. But if the red-hot quarterback stays smoldering for at least one more game, he and the franchise he plays for will be getting ready to celebrate something very new.

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