Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL SeasonThe term "elite" seems to be thrown around far too
often in the NFL. This quarterback, that running back, plenty of players have
the chance to reach that coveted status among the best in football. But only a
select few ever truly reach that peak during their careers.

This season, there are a handful of players inching ever
closer to claiming that coveted reputation. Right at the head of that class,
though, stands Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan, who was hyped as an NFL-ready quarterback coming out of Boston College in 2008, showed promise of achieving his lofty expectations during each of his first four NFL seasons. But every time he seemed to take a big step forward, something would find a way to halt his progression.

In his rookie season, a trip to the playoffs was an impressive accomplishment, especially following a season in which the Falcons finished 4-12. But an interception on his first ever postseason pass threw a hitch in what turned out to be a loss. His second season was derailed by a nagging turf toe injury, which cost Ryan two games and ultimately the Falcons a playoff spot.

Ryan's 2010 season was arguably his best, recording career highs in completion percentage (62.5 percent) and touchdowns (28) while throwing only nine interceptions. But even as a 13-3 season clinched the Falcons the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Atlanta endured a brutal 48-21 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers in the divisional round. The 2011 season had a similar fate, as a promising season by Ryan and the Falcons ended in embarrassment by a 24-2 loss to the Giants in the wild card round.

The Falcons' playoff failures have saddled Ryan with the reputation of an underachiever and a player lacking the killer instinct needed to ever win the big game. So, jumping out to a hot start in 2012 was more important than any of Ryan's prior achievements, a challenge the quarterback has readily conquered.

Ryan took the field in 2012 with what has seemed like a vendetta against the rest of the league. His focus and determination to lead the Falcons has been on display with each pass he's thrown and it's apparent with his 69.4 completion percentage, which ranks second only to Aaron Rodgers. Ryan's improved decision making has also been on display this season, and it shows in the statistics with his league-leading 112.1 passer rating.

The remarkable statistics, including 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions this season, don't tell the whole story, though. Ryan's intangibles are just as important to the Falcons success as any metric used to breakdown his statistical dominance.

Ryan's relationship with his receiving corps has been vital to his development and the success he's found in the passing game. His trust of Roddy White is the same type of faith every quarterback must feel for his No. 1 target. The budding chemistry between he and Julio Jones has also established a consistent deep threat, and maybe more importantly, provided the Falcons with a pair of receivers unmatched by nearly any team around the league. Then, of course, is the ever dependable Tony Gonzalez, who adds not only a veteran presence, but also remains one of the best tight ends in football even at age 36.

The chemistry with his offense is important, but Ryan's leadership, especially in crucial moments, is even more imperative for the Falcons. Ryan's embrace of the big moment, which earned him the nickname "Matty Ice" while at BC, has shown through at times in Atlanta. And that knack for leading comebacks and game-winning scores was on full display once again during Sunday's win against the Panthers.

Ryan was faced with another late-game opportunity on Sunday, and he took full advantage. Atlanta trailed by one with just 54 seconds left on the clock and the Falcons backed up all the way to their one-yard line, but with Ryan at the helm the game was far from over.

The 27-year-old hooked up with White on a 59-yard bomb to kick off the drive and proceeded to dip and dunk his way down to the 22-yard line to give kicker Matt Bryant a fighting chance at salvaging the win. The 40-yard boot went flying through the uprights and Ryan once again wore the hero cape.

Ryan still isn't thought to have the unrelenting will to succeed in the big moment, even though Sunday's win now gives him 12 fourth-quarter comebacks in his four-plus seasons in the league. But while the Falcons establish themselves as both the best team in football and a legitimate Super Bowl contender, Ryan continues to be the catalyst for their success and is firmly in the lead for the MVP race through a quarter of the season.

And in the meantime, he's just affirming his place among the NFL's elite.

Have a
question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or
send it here.

The Starting 11
1 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons

Right now, Matt Ryan is the best player in the NFL. It might still be early, the Super Bowl has never been won in Week 4 after all. But with so much hype surrounding the Packers, Patriots and 49ers heading into the 2012 season, Ryan has unexpectedly lifted the Falcons into the contenders conversation. Ryan completed 25 of 40 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns against the Panthers, even while enduring seven sacks, but it was his late-game heroics that once again displayed the 26-year-old's value to Atlanta. Sure, Cam Newton might have fumbled away the win for Carolina, but Ryan turned around to lead the Falcons 77 yards down field in just 54 seconds and set up Matt Bryant for the 40-yard game-winning field goal. An epic comeback? Yes. But talk about a signature win for a quarterback quickly rising into elite status.

2 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets

The Jets put a goose egg up on the scoreboard on Sunday, and Sanchez was a big reason for it. Sanchez completed just 13 of 29 passes for 103 yards against the 49ers and looked anything but comfortable in the pocket all afternoon. The chants of "Tebow" could be heard all the way in upstate New York, and Jets fans might not be unreasonable to give the former Broncos quarterback a chance under center. Since throwing three touchdowns on the way to a 48-28 win in Week 1, Sanchez has been nothing short of a disappointment. At some point, if this continues, Rex Ryan's got to go in a different direction. Right?

3 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Brian Hartline, WR, Dolphins

There were a number of bright spots to come out of Miami's 24-21 overtime loss in Arizona on Sunday, but none made a bigger impact than Hartline. After pulling down just one catch in New York last week, Hartline more than made up for the lost production against the Cardinals. Hartline caught 12 passes for 253 yards and an 80-yard touchdown to help lead the Miami offense to a season-high 480 total yards. Rookie Ryan Tannehill also may have finally found a reliable threat in the passing game, throwing Hartline's way 19 times and ultimately racking up 431 yards on the afternoon. This could be the start of something very good.

4 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens

Smith played two games within five days of his little brother Tevin's unexpected death, and the Ravens wideout just continued his rampage on Thursday night. Smith hauled in six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown only four days after slicing up the Patriots in similar fashion with six grabs, 127 yards and two scores. The resiliency, courage and determination Smith has shown in the wake of his brother's tragic death is admirable and even inspirational. He continues to lead Baltimore's receiving corps and establish himself as one of the premier deep threats in all of football.

5 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Patriots Offense

I don't know if the Patriots offense was that good or if the Bills defense was just that bad. After a troubling first half where Tom Brady and the Patriots scored only seven points, the New England offense exploded for the single-most productive half the NFL has seen since 1972. Brady threw three touchdowns and punched one in on the ground, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski were the reliable receiving threats everyone expects — only after forgiving a fumble from each. But the running game was what really set this offense off. Stevan Ridley put up his second 100-yard game of the season (Week 1 against the Titans), but the emergence of undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden may have been the most important piece of Sunday's win. If Bolden can continue his production in this fashion, then he and Ridley could combine to become one of the best 1-2 punches in all of football.

6 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Lawrence Tynes, K, Giants

Lawrence Tynes was 10-for-10 on field goals heading into Sunday night's divisional showdown in Philadelphia, but Tynes left Lincoln Financial Field having missed both his first and most critical kick of the season. The Giants were relying on Tynes' leg to boot them to victory in the waning seconds against the Eagles, instead they saw their hopes come up just short — literally. Tynes is still one of the best kickers in football, but missing the game-winner not once but twice — even if only one officially counted — is brutal. Shape up, Giants, you're starting to look like those pretenders you share a stadium with.

7 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Houston Texans Defense

Aside from moving to 4-0 on the season, what did the Texans 38-14 win over the Titans really accomplish on Sunday? I don't know, maybe establishing them as the best defense in the NFL? Yeah, that sounds about right. Under the guidance of J.J. Watt — 7 1/2 sacks on the year — and Brian Cushing, Houston sacked the combination of Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck four times on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Texans' secondary returned a pair of interceptions back for touchdowns to further solidify their place among the league's best. If you're an AFC team looking to get to New Orleans for the Super Bowl this season, you better prepare for the Texans because they'll likely be right there at the end.

8 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Cameron Wake, DE, Dolphins

The Dolphins didn't pull out the win in Arizona on Sunday, yet they still boast two of the week's best performances. Hartline amazed in the passing game, but it was Wake who steadied the defense. Wake, who entered Miami's fourth game still without a sack, forced his way into the Cardinals backfield time and again on Sunday on the way to a personal best 4 1/2 sacks. Obviously it wasn't enough to stop Kevin Kolb from leading a game-winning drive in overtime, but Wake at least offers hope for a Dolphins defense that has seen better days.

9 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Billy Cundiff, K, Redskins

Call it redemption, if you feel the need, but Sunday's game-winning kick by Billy Cundiff didn't do anything to eliminate his "unreliable" tag. Sure, Cundiff was able to make a crucial kick to decide a game, unlike his miss for the Ravens in the AFC Championship, but he still missed three of the four chances he had on Sunday. If Rober Griffin III hadn't gotten Cundiff in position to make the 41-yard game-winner, then we would be talking about Cundiff's place on the unemployment line at this point. Luckily, for him at least, Cundiff came up in the clutch. But unless he goes on an epic streak here, Cundiff will be sitting on the hot seat every week from here on out.

10 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos

The way Manning looked in Atlanta in Week 2, I was just about ready to throw in the towel on the aging quarterback. Suddenly though, things are beginning to look a bit brighter. Manning completed 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards and a trio of touchdowns in an absolute ravaging of the Raiders on Sunday. The 36-year-old may never win another MVP trophy, but with more performances like this, he continues to prove he's still among the NFL's best signal callers. The Broncos are 2-2 so far in the Manning era, but if he keeps this pace up, they'll find themselves in the playoff picture at season's end.

 
11 Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season
    Matt Ryan Developing Into Elite Quarterback With MVP Caliber Performance Through First Quarter of NFL Season

Mike Vick, QB, Eagles

Vick seems to be a mainstay here on the Starting 11, but this time he's heading in the right direction. Vick, who has thrown six interceptions while scoring just four touchdowns this season, showed great poise and focus on Sunday night in leading the Eagles to a 19-17 win over the Giants. The mobile quarterback looked much more fluid with his throws and appeared sound in his decision making. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown while also keeping the Giants' D on their toes by carrying the ball six times for 49 yards. Vick's leadership has Philly sitting with a 3-1 record and finally looking like a legitimate contender in the NFC. If this sort of consistent play continues, the Eagles may well win the NFC East.

Yardbarker

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 184,612 other followers