As Falcons struggle, another year of Matt Ryan is squandered

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan currently stands 11th on the NFL’s list of career passing yards, and he’s sixth among active players.

Matt Ryan’s biological clock hasn’t exactly run down yet, but it won’t be all that long before it groans rather than ticks. When the second hand gets liver spots, then you’ll know the Falcons are really in trouble.

In his 34th year, Ryan is still producing at a level that suggests his quarterbacking sell-by date has not elapsed. But you’ll blink, and his best will be behind him and you’ll wonder why the Falcons didn’t make more of it.

A season such as this stokes these types of bleak thoughts. A season in which the Falcons are no factor before Halloween, a season in which so many games will mean so little in the grand scheme, regardless of what Ryan does.

It’s the kind of season that raises the maddening question: How can New Orleans do so much more without Drew Brees than the Falcons can do with Matt Ryan?

And then there's a game like Sunday's, in which Ryan threw for 356 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions and still it didn't result in a win over middling Arizona. That provided such a clear and present case of squandered excellence from the game's most important position.

No one is suggesting these Falcons are made of Super Bowl stuff. But certainly, don’t they have to be better than dreadful, better than 1-5, while Ryan still has a strong pulse?

A quarterback is a terrible thing to waste. Ask Philip Rivers about that.

Ryan is going to throw for a passel of yards this season — on pace to surpass 5,000 for the first time in a 12-year career — but that can deceive. There can be desperation written over that number, as Ryan tries, unsuccessfully, to sling his team back into a game after falling too far behind. These Falcons seem to wake up Sunday mornings already down 14-0.

Six games into the season, look at some of the other measurables, and the company Ryan keeps in these categories, and you’ll find enough to indict the team around him.

Six starters currently own a quarterback rating of over 100. Only Ryan among them has a losing record.

Combine four of the top five in completion percentage, their won-loss record is 17-5. Or, as many losses combined as Ryan’s Falcons have managed single-handedly (Ryan’s third in this column, at 72.1%).

Ryan leads the league in touchdown passes (15). The next two behind him at 14 — Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson — certainly have more to show for theirs.

In fairness, Ryan also ranks third in the NFL in interceptions, at seven, up there where the Baker Mayfields and the Jameis Winstons live. His two picks against Minnesota and a red-zone interception against Indianapolis were grievous. So, he’s far from blameless.

What he is, though, is being squandered, betrayed by a defense as porous as cheesecloth. Ryan finds himself too often just trying to bail water rather than win games. Spending these past couple of seasons as a bilge pump is no way for the game's sixth-highest-paid player (per to go through life.

There has been talk about this team’s window of opportunity for several years now, growing louder as Ryan and his top receiver Julio Jones have crossed over to the other side of 30. That window is seemingly being propped open by only a swizzle stick these days.

Fixes can come quicker in the NFL than in other leagues — the Falcons went from 6-10 in 2014 to the Super Bowl in two years. A coaching change was the catalyst for that big jump. Another one, alas, seems to be on the way.

And a quick fix would be required of any new regime. Because the clock is ticking, too soon to run out of time.

And when that happens, names get retired to stadium rafters with few championship banners beside them — a lonely sight.