Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan closes in on 5K completions, a mark only six QBs have reached

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The Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan is closing in on 5,000 completions. What are the chances he’ll reach it?

Matt Ryan is closing in on 5K completions, a mark only six QBs have reached.
Matt Ryan, the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, can’t recall them all. Sure, the first one. Without a doubt, the major moments. However, so many of Ryan’s passes over the last 14 seasons have blended into a tapestry.

Even a near-photographic memory will lose some pictures after you’ve had thousands of them, reaching 79 players.

“With 5,000 coming up,” Ryan remarked, “I believe anybody who says you they remember each and every one is lying to you.”


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Ryan will join Drew Brees (New Orleans), Tom Brady (New England), Brett Favre (Green Bay), and Ben Roethlisberger as the seventh and sixth players in NFL history to complete 5,000 regular-season passes with one club, respectively (Pittsburgh).

Ryan has a habit of scoffing at honors and achievements, such as being the 10th player in NFL history to throw 350 touchdown passes earlier this season. It’s how he’s been able to reach this point: by refusing to dwell on the past and instead focusing on the present.

Ryan also doesn’t collect footballs, just having 20 to 30 during his professional career. They are “being thrown around the house right now by my kids,” rather than being kept under lock and key. It’s never been a major concern of his.

“The more you concentrate about long-term or legacy issues, the less you worry about what’s essential this week,” Ryan said. “I make an effort to divide and conquer. That’s something I’m really proud of.”

Instead, the significance of those footballs is determined by their outcomes. The ones that resulted in touchdowns, victories, and divisional championships. And there’s the almost 5,000 completions.

Ryan claims to be able to recall a few hundred names in a split second. He would most likely remember the play if he watched it “a half Perhaps even more.” They are the ones who stick out among the receivers that received passes from him.

Jenkins, Michael (No. 11, 133 catches, 1,770 yards, five touchdowns)

Comet sink with a zero strength of 62.

This is one that Ryan recalls. Will always be the case. It was his first pass, completion, and touchdown. In Week 1 of his rookie season in 2008, he accomplished all of this on a 62-yard play against the Detroit Lions.

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They’d worked on the play throughout training camp and organized team exercises — it was a mainstay in Ryan’s early years — a mix of a curl and a flat on one side of the play and a thin post on the other, where Jenkins lined up.

Ryan had asked then-offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey for a familiar play for his first throw the Friday before. Achieve into a groove, get a completion. He’d been running the curl-flat idea since high school, and he’d go to that side of the route “99 percent” of the time.

Unless there was a single glance.

“The defense demonstrated exactly what they were going to do, so I knew if I ran my route, the ball would be on target, just as it had been throughout training camp,” Jenkins said. “I landed on the middle step, and the ball was right there.” Because the safety was out of position, he was able to sprint to the end zone unharmed.

“Matt took off with his career.”

Jenkins believes it would not have been a touchdown if the safety had been in place. Is there a catch? Probably. That year, the Falcons ran the play a lot. It gave Ryan, a rookie at the time, a slew of safe completion choices and, with the proper look, a big-play potential.

Jenkins said that he tried all in his power to get Ryan the ball from the play. Ryan, on the other hand, is missing out. He’s got the helmet on and the jersey on. But his first pass, touchdown, and victory? That ball, however, has vanished into the ethers of time.

The memory is still there.

Later that season, the Bears scored with 11 seconds remaining to take a 20-19 lead over Chicago in Week 6. With six seconds left, Ryan completed a 26-yard deep corner to Jenkins, setting up a game-winning Jason Elam field goal.

Jenkins remarked, “Right on the money, when he was struck.” “I’m not sure whether he even noticed the finish. So make those kinds of throws early in your career, because this guy has a lot of potential.”

Those two are the ones that come to mind first when Ryan thinks of them. His first completion, which led to the first of 39 game-winning drives and 31 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career.

“That one sticks out in my mind. The ones from the beginning of my career are the ones I’m most proud of “Ryan said. “It’s brand new. It’s invigorating. You’re just so overworked from being in the NFL that those kinds of things stay with you.”

Douglas, Harry (No. 4, 257 catches, 3,122 yards, eight touchdowns)

Douglas and Ryan have been friends since they were drafted together in 2008. Douglas recognized early on that he could be in a very favorable position because of the two throws to Jenkins. That’s why Douglas couldn’t choose just one, two, or five of his own best receptions.

“I believe a lot of the synergy we had on the field stemmed from the things he managed off the field,” Douglas said. “Our discussion and what he wanted to do off the field after practice.”

In 2008, Matt Ryan and Harry Douglas were both drafted by the Falcons in the same draft class. David Goldman/AP Photo

Ryan even arranged 7-on-7 practices at Buford High School during the 2011 lockout to ensure they were ready when the lockout ended. Instead of having to learn everything from him, he catered to his playmakers.

Ryan has gone as far as quizzing younger players and asking his receivers what signals should be used in no-huddle since it is simpler for one guy (Ryan) to understand than a full room of players. If he spotted anything to alter up a play, he might make a fast gesture like driving a truck to indicate into a semi route or ‘Easy Easy.’

“No-huddle was our favorite,” Douglas added. “And we had complete faith in Matt, and it was his duty to scan the defense and find the best play for us.”

Roddy White is a character in the film Roddy White (No. 2, 643 catches, 8,422 yards, 52 touchdowns)

The first pass White saw Ryan throw was the most obnoxious. Atlanta had just selected Ryan as the No. 2 overall pick. When he arrived at OTAs, they were warming up together.

“You go down, pat-and-go, and it’s like the simplest pass in the world to make to receivers because we’re not going that quickly and everything is just a jog,” White said. “And he simply tossed the largest duck,” says the narrator.

“And I thought to myself, ‘Oh s—-, we may be in danger.’”

Roddy White was skeptical of young Matt Ryan at first, but he soon warmed up to the signal-caller. Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

The Falcons were not in any danger. White and Ryan became one of the NFL’s most productive duos, probably most notably against Cincinnati in Atlanta in 2010, when White had 11 receptions for 201 yards and two scores.

There are two receptions that stand out. The first was a grab that White believes to be his favorite, as he snatched the ball from two feet out. It was an unusual toss that wasn’t aimed for White’s helmet or numbers, but rather at a place that only he could reach. White ran an underneath route over the center dubbed “Chief,” which he snatched at full speed.

White said, “He sort of threw it low and I was going to the left and I simply grabbed it with one hand, got it with my left hand low, boom, caught it.” “… That was one where I was thinking to myself, ‘Run this way, catch the ball going left.’”

The second was a one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch on the sideline, which Ryan audibled into because he perceived man coverage. Because of their connection, White was able to make this play.

Ryan’s favorite completion to White was a deep post route against Seattle in the playoffs in 2013 — “a beautiful route by him,” Ryan said. One of two highlight-reel moments from Ryan’s first postseason victory was a 47-yard throw to give Atlanta a 20-0 lead.

Tony Gonzalez is a well-known figure in the (No. 3, 383 catches, 3,956 yards, 35 touchdowns)

Gonzalez began to describe a different play before stopping and changing his mind. This play… it was incredible. Gonzalez went into the end zone on the 1-yard line against Seattle in the playoffs with Kam Chancellor on him, whom Gonzalez believes “perhaps the greatest strong safety of all time.” He’s protected.

So Gonzalez alters the corner route he’s meant to run in the middle of the play. Gonzalez came to a halt on the goal line, allowing Chancellor to pass him, then leaped up to catch the ball, planting his right foot, looked down, and making sure his left foot was planted inbounds, just beyond the goalpost.

Tony Gonzalez caught 35 touchdown passes in his last five NFL seasons with Matt Ryan. AP Photo/John Bazemore

“I put the brakes on and it sort of flashed through my head while I was doing it,” Gonzalez said. “But Matt is going to know where I’m at.” “That’s how close we were to being on the same page. He knew what I was planning, and I knew what he was planning.”

This was the result of four years of chemistry and four years of collaboration, which began with a meeting between the two of them shortly after Gonzalez came from Kansas City. It was at this discussion that Gonzalez recognized Ryan, who had just won the NFL Rookie of the Year award, was different.

Ryan’s earnestness, attention to detail, and the way he approached each day as an opportunity to learn impressed him. How Ryan began holding player meetings to ensure that everyone was on the same page. How he progressed from a promising young quarterback to one of the best in the NFL.

The touchdown-scoring ad-lib resulted from all of the familiarity. Gonzalez was compared to a point guard who is leading a fast break and intuitively knows where his alternatives are.

Ryan said, “We placed it on a back-shoulder area and he toe-tapped and essentially went down.” “It was essentially a shot behind a defender’s head, a back-shoulder type of shoot on an end line, and it’s one of those things where you have to give him chances and throw him free with the ball when you have a player who can do that.”

Jones, Julio (No. 1, 833 catches, 12,628 yards, 59 touchdowns)

After White and Gonzalez departed, Jones’ connection with Ryan became the longest of his football career, spanning a decade of pass-and-catch that was crucial to both Ryan and Jones’ careers.

No one had a stronger bond with Ryan.

“It’s simply a matter of trust,” Jones said.

It was on display most prominently in Super Bowl LI, when he made one of the most spectacular receptions in NFL history. Ryan scrambled right and delivered the ball to Jones, who was surrounded by two defenders, including Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe.

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have established themselves as one of the greatest quarterback-receiver combinations in NFL history. David Goldman/AP Photo

Jones leaped over Rowe to make the grab and managed to keep his feet inbounds, similar to Gonzalez’s playoff catch versus Seattle, but Jones’ catch had a little more speed and power.

“It wasn’t a great look to put it up after playing with him for so long,” Ryan said, “but there are some people you play with throughout your career that you have to give them chances.” “You have to offer them chances in crucial moments, and I attempted to position it in a place where only him could receive it.”

“It turned out to be a fantastic catch and a nice location.”

At the time, Ryan believed the play would help Atlanta win the game — and a Lombardi trophy — rather than what occurred afterwards.

Another Jones grab, though, jumps out. It came against New England the next season. Atlanta was on the 1-yard line, and Malcolm Butler was set up on the right side opposite Jones. Butler covered Jones closer than Rowe in the Super Bowl when he ran a fade. It didn’t make a difference.

Ryan said, “He essentially grabbed the ball off the defender and snapped it away from him.” “That was an absolutely incredible catch.”

Calvin Ridley is a character in the film Calvin and Hobbe (No. 6, 237 catches, 3,169 yards, 25 touchdowns)

Ryan’s current No. 1 receiver has been with the team since the third game of his rookie season. Ridley has seven receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans at home.

Ryan and Jones warned Ridley, who was 23 at the time and had just scored his first touchdown a week before, that he was going to be in huge trouble.

“I was convinced. I sat there and watched the movie while also listening to the elder men and my coach “Ridley said. “And, yes, everything played out just as we had planned. It everything worked out perfectly.”

Ridley had a three-quarter scoring spree, scoring in the first, second, and third quarters. Ridley lined up on the right side, halted and hesitated halfway through his route to throw P.J. Williams off guard, and then raced to the back of the end zone, where Ryan put the ball.

Matt Ryan’s No. 1 target right now, and for years to come, is Calvin Ridley. Getty Images/Hannah Foslien

Ridley lined up wide on the right for the second score and beat Williams off the line. Ryan saw it, threw it up, and it turned into a 75-yard touchdown.

“On the right side, he completely annihilated him and demonstrated just how dynamic his speed is,” Ryan added. “That was an eye-opener for me, and I was like, ‘Wow, dude, this guy can absolutely fly.’ And that’s the one I’ll never forget from him.”

The third touchdown was made up on the spot. The play broke down as Ridley lined up on the left side. So, as Ryan scrambled, Ridley raced around in the end zone. Ridley made room for himself. Ryan was able to locate him.

It was the culmination of Ridley’s first breakthrough day and the beginning of bigger things to come.

Ridley said, “It’s to the point where he trusts me to be where I need to be.” “You never know, he may throw it to me when he doesn’t have to. From freshman year to today, the degree of trust has risen significantly.”

Zaccheaus, Olamide (No. 29, 29 catches, 458 yards, three touchdowns)

The first hookup between Ryan and Zaccheaus, from their own 7-yard line, was their most memorable. It was Ryan’s longest throw of his career, at 93 yards. It was symmetrical for Zaccheaus and Ryan.

Zaccheaus had made his first catch. After Zaccheaus was “sort of just tossed in the game,” it went for a big touchdown, exactly like Ryan’s first pass. Zaccheaus went out on the left side and had one-on-one coverage against Donte Jackson.

Olamide Zaccheaus scored a 93-yard touchdown on his first reception from Matt Ryan. Icon Sportswire/Kevin Abele

He caught the ball on the Falcons logo in the center of the field, which Ryan threw away before being hit on a rush. Because Jackson missed the tackle, Zaccheaus was able to run the last 45 yards alone for the score, which was the longest first catch in NFL history.

“We simply spoke about it quickly the following week after that play, the experience of it,” Zaccheaus recalled. “He says things like, ‘That’s your first catch, right?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ I’m like, ‘ It was a cool experience. I’m still waiting for him to autograph my baseball. I’ll get there in the end.”

It was also the game in which Ryan passed for over 50,000 yards and White was recognized at halftime.

Peelle, Justin (T-25, 36 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns)

His son’s room is decorated with the painting.

Peelle and the Falcons were in the red zone against his former club, the Chargers, in 2008. He placed a corner post in the center of the field. They’d previously collaborated on a play. Peelle felt he had a chance the minute it was called.

The touchdown was grabbed by Peelle. It was cool at the time. It became particularly unforgettable later on.

“I’m coaching in Philly a few years later, and we hire Bill Musgrave as our quarterback coach, and he had that photo,” Peelle recalled. “Because coach [Mike] Smith used to change out the portraits in the corridor every week, and he had received that one.”

“When Coach Musgrave arrived to Philly, I was coming into my office one day and there was that photo right there.”

It was taken home by Peelle, who is currently Atlanta’s tight ends coach. It remains in his son’s room, long retired, as a reminder of what his father used to do before he became a coach.

Brian Finneran is a well-known Irish actor (No. 23, 48 catches, 407 yards, four touchdowns)

It was a play that the Falcons had used long before Ryan came in Atlanta, and it was a play that had been used by numerous coaching staffs and offenses. It was a double-dagger route, and Finneran, who was towards the twilight of his career, was seldom the first choice in an attack that included White, Gonzalez, and Douglas.

But he felt comfortable when the Z receiver stepped back off the line of scrimmage on this play.

Finneran said, “I was going toward the back end line, set up outside, sort of make it seem like a fade route, and then break to the center on the dig and he put a beautiful, high ball.” “I leapt up and grabbed it as soon as I got in the air, the safety ran over and struck me fairly hard on the ground, but I held on and scored a touchdown.”

Ryan is the “perfect quarterback,” according to Finneran, who is now a radio personality in Atlanta, because of his ability to pass to open receivers and knowledge of defenses. Finneran had just a few years left by the time they performed together, something he has regretted on many occasions.

Instead of spending three years together while Ryan was at his best, they spent three years together as he developed.

“When I was playing with Matt Ryan, I wish I was younger and had two healthy knees,” Finneran remarked. “Because he would have been a lot of joy to work with.”

Tialavea, D.J. (T-68; one catch, 1 yard, one touchdown)

It was Week 16 of the 2016 NFL season, and Tialavea was ready to make his NFL debut, one of just two he’d make in his entire career. He was active for the first time after three years on the practice squad.

And there he was, on the Carolina 1-yard line, in the game. He slipped off the line while lining up on the left in a big package. He regained his footing and completed the trip across the end zone. Ryan and Tialavea were both scrambling.

D.J. Tialavea’s lone NFL catch was a 1-yard touchdown from Matt Ryan in 2016, as shown here. Icon Sportswire/Jason Walle/Zuma Press

“I don’t believe the ball was meant to come to me,” Tialavea remarked. “Matt, on the other hand, did an excellent job of rolling out, and I was left wide open. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I even completed my work correctly.”

On his lone catch and score of his career, the commentators failed to pronounce his last name.

Ryan doesn’t recall much of the game (he recalls the blurring), but he will never forget what occurred afterward. Tialavea dashed for the goalpost, football in hand, left hand pointing in the air, then touched his head and continued pointing to the fans.

“He couldn’t stop screaming because he was so thrilled,” Ryan said. “It was quite amusing to see.”

McGary, Kaleb (T-68, one catch, minus-3 yards)

McGary doesn’t think it’s even a catch. It’s written in the books. McGary, on the other hand, is unable to do so.

McGary, a rookie right tackle in 2019, was blocking Arizona’s Chandler Jones when Ryan dropped back to throw. Jones jumped up to deflect the ball as Ryan returned to throwing. He made touch with her. McGary heard a thump and watched the ball fly into the air, end-over-end.

McGary stated, “I turn around and the ball falls into my hands.” “I walk down and have this ‘Oh s—-‘ moment.”

He’s immediately struck, and he still doesn’t think it’s a catch. Every offensive lineman’s desire, according to McGary, is to catch a touchdown pass instead of the way he’s done thus far.

“I wish it counted as a genuine grab and that I could have done something great with it, like gone back to the line of scrimmage and broken [a tackle], I wish,” McGary said. “That was not the case. That isn’t a valid argument.”

He does, however, want to add a second catch one day, and he joked that he had a perfect catch rating.

Logan Paulsen is a character in the film Logan Paulsen (No. 50, nine catches, 91 yards, one touchdown)

Twelve of Ryan’s pass-catchers have caught every ball he’s thrown them, with Logan Paulsen leading the way with nine catches.

Ryan’s score to Paulsen occurred as a result of a substitution mistake.

On a red zone play against Cincinnati in Week 4 of 2018, no one came to grab Paulsen. As a result, Paulsen was retained. The defense shifted toward Jones, as it did so often. Paulsen set out on a seam path.

“I was wide open after beating the linebacker,” Paulsen said. “I remember the ball seeming like it was in the air forever coming down, and I bobbled it a little bit, but I was in the end zone, so I didn’t have to go anywhere, and I simply caught it.”

“I don’t score touchdowns on a daily basis.”

Paulsen’s 17-yard touchdown was his first since 2014. That year, Ryan threw a career-high 422 passes. He probably hasn’t seen many of them since. Paulsen’s catch was a little different. It was a significant event.

It was his last touchdown of the season. It also came from a possible Hall of Famer.

“Matt is excellent as a receiver,” Finneran added. “He knows every defense he faces and puts players in the perfect position to be successful because he delivers a catchable ball.”

And he’s done it again and over, almost 5,000 times.

This article was contributed to by ESPN reporters John Keim and Turron Davenport.