HOUSTON — For the second straight year, a previously maligned NFC South quarterback has earned the MVP trophy. Matt Ryan just hopes his Super Bowl Sunday goes better than it did for Cam Newton last season.
The Associated Press chose the Atlanta Falcons quarterback as the league’s MVP Saturday night at NFL Honors, capping an incredible season stuffed with big plays and bigger statistics. Ryan earned the honor over Tom Brady, Ryan’s adversary in the Super Bowl, presumably because Brady had 12 games of excellence instead of Ryan’s incredible full season. Ryan received 25 votes for MVP while Brady finished second with 10.
Ryan’s transformative season dates all the way back to the offseason. Falcons receiver Julio Jones said this week that Ryan’s deep ball was noticeably stronger after Ryan’s offseason workouts in Florida, with extra yardage on a “pretty deep ball.” That translated into a season in which Ryan led the league in virtually every big play category, from yards-per-attempt to plays over 40 yards to completion percentage on passes over 20 yards. Ryan finished with 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
There was no question that Ryan felt more comfortable in Year 2 of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system. The Falcons offense did a great job mixing up looks, often at their most dangerous when four or five receivers were on the field. Ryan did an excellent job reading defenses, adjusting to what they do and finding the open receiver. Jones has always been great. Ryan helped make Jones’ supporting cast better than ever this season.
Ryan’s pocket movement also stood out. Like Brady, Ryan has become a master at naturally feeling the pass rush and buying extra time to throw. Many of his defining plays came from a collapsing pocket, picking up a long-yardage situation with a tight window throw. Ryan did some of his best work against his toughest competition like Seattle (twice) and Denver.
Atlanta’s offense ranks statistically among the greatest in NFL history. A big performance by Ryan on Super Bowl Sunday would put him in rarefied air of all-time quarterback seasons. Not since Kurt Warner in the ’99 season has a quarterback won MVP and the Super Bowl in the same season. Ryan has thrown 18 touchdowns with no interceptions over his last six games, the Falcons averaging 39 points-per-game in that span.
Often criticized in his career for untimely interceptions, even by Falcons fans, Ryan forever changed how his career will be viewed with this MVP season. Win one more victory on Sunday night, and he’ll go from afterthought to all-time legend in one calendar year.