Injuries decimated his receiving corps. The Atlanta Falcons‘ offensive line ranked in the NFL’s bottom third, according to both Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus.
Excuses aside, Ryan couldn’t pull his team out of a season-long tailspin as other members of the NFL’s quarterback royalty have done. Recently retired tight end Tony Gonzalez acknowledged as much in an interview with ESPN The Magazine.
“Matt’s an excellent quarterback,” Gonzalez said, “But he’s not elite. He’s this close.”
It’s a fair assessment.
Elite quarterbacks are the best players on their team’s roster. That’s not the case with the Falcons.
When Julio Jones went down with a season-ending foot injury, we made the point here and on the Around The League Podcast that Ryan’s limitations would surface without his difference-making receiver around to keep defenses honest against Gonzalez, Roddy White and the running game.
That’s exactly how it went down. Before the Falcons lost Jones, all four losses came down to the last possession. After losing Jones, the next four losses were blowouts and the season became a full-fledged disaster.
Gonzalez is correct: Ryan is an excellent quarterback. He’s one of the rare breed deserving of the “franchise quarterback” label.
Factoring in his depleted arsenal, Ryan’s game film showed the same quarterback in 2013 as in 2012 even if the numbers weren’t as impressive.
However, if he wants to join the ranks of the NFL’s elite with Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, he’s going to have to improve on his 1-4 career playoff record. He’ll also have to carry the offense without the benefit of a future Hall of Fame tight end in 2014.