HOUSTON -- A year ago at this time, Matt Ryan was a pretty accomplished football player. But he had not ascended to the top shelf of NFL quarterbacks, nor was there certainty about his long-term future with the Falcons, given his contract ran through only 2018.
He's top shelf now and you can be certain he won't be going anywhere.
Ryan was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player Saturday night at the NFL Honors event. Amid all of the pre-playoff talk about Ryan's "legacy," let make this clear: This award is well-deserved.
With two weeks left in the regular season, I wrote a column titled, "Strong finish could push Matt Ryan to MVP honors." I didn't have a vote but at the time I ranked my top three candidates as: 1. Tom Brady (New England); 2. Ryan; 3. Ezekiel Elliott. I didn't even list Aaron Rodgers at that point because I didn't think what he had done to that point of the season made up for some earlier struggles. Of course, a lot changed in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Ryan had six touchdown passes, zero interceptions and threw for more than 600 yards in the final two games against NFC South Division rivals Carolina and New Orleans, posting efficiency ratings of 121.8 and 139.9. He finished with a league leading rating of 117.1 and a quarterback-interception differential of plus-31 (38-7).
Ryan received 25 votes for MVP. Brady finished second with 10, Elliott and Derek Carr were third (6 votes), followed by Rodgers (2) and Dak Prescott (1).
Honestly, I wouldn't have had a problem if Brady (112.2, 28 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) had won. I get the argument against him: He was suspended for the first four games for "Deflategate." But would missing four games be looked at differently if he was recovering from an injury? I'm guessing: yes.
But there was momentum among voters for Ryan in the final two games. He learned early in the week that he had won the award so he recorded a statement on video that was played at the NFL Honors event at the Wortham Theater in downtown Houston, less than 10 miles from Sunday's Super Bowl at NRG Stadium. He obviously was not going to attend the event the night before the most important game of his career.
"I just want to say thank you and this is an incredible honor for me.
Obviously there are so many other great candidates and players who had amazing seasons. I want to thank all of teammates, obviously without them none of this is possible. We’ve had so many guys on our team make great plays and have great seasons for us, so thank you to those guys. Big thank you to my wife for the support that she gives me throughout the entire year. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without her, so thank you Sarah for all of that and to my family, thank you for the continued support throughout the year, so appreciate it, thank you, and I hope everybody has a great night."
Now Ryan wants to buck a trend.
Of the last 16 MVP winners, seven went on to play in the Super Bowl in the same season but none won the game. The seven: Kurt Warner (St. Louis) in 2001, Rich Gannon (Oakland) in 2002, Shaun Alexander (Seattle) in 2005; Brady in 2007; Peyton Manning (Indianapolis) in 2009; Manning again (with Denver) in 2013; Cam Newton (Carolina) in 2015.
There have been 10 players who've won MVPs and Super Bowls in the same season. The last was Warner in the 1999 season, when the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans for the league championship.
For what it's worth, Brady has won two MVP award, in 2007 and 2010. In those seasons, the New England Patriots (18-0) lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl and to the New York Jets in the AFC divisional playoffs.
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