Tale of two Matts: Stafford rises, Ryan languishes

John Matthew Stafford – he goes by his middle name – stayed with a losing hand so long that he passed patience years ago and was on his way to martyrdom. Bless him, he tried for 12 seasons to make chicken salad of the Detroit Lions, but there’s not enough mayo in the world for that task. He’s in a much better place now after getting a trade he asked for, riding high with the L.A. Rams.

Matthew Thomas Ryan – call him Matt – had his window of opportunity and then had it close on his fingers one February night in Houston in 2017. He has tried, bless him, to lift the Falcons for 14 seasons, but that’s just asking for the world’s largest sports hernia. Unlike Stafford, he’s frozen in place now, stuck with his original team, a team wandering somewhere between a rebuild and a tear-down.

The tale of two Matts, one that figures to play out in stark contrast this year, also is one that will intrigue a fan base near you. As the best arm talent ever to pass through UGA, Stafford, 33, will have his old college supporters now rooting for a long-time-coming postseason deliverance. And as the most accomplished arm ever with the Falcons, Ryan, at 36 will, of course, get more than his share of the credit/blame for whatever becomes of his team’s 2021. Blame is the 5-to-1 favorite.

This weekend, Stafford gets to play in the kind of high-profile, image-enhancing game so often denied him in Detroit. His 2-0 Rams play the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs and their king of all QBs, Tom Brady. That’s coincidentally the team that just beat the Falcons by 23. Unlike that game, this one is an early-season gauge as to who might wield real NFC power.

While Ryan faces a defining kind of matchup of his own, at the opposite competitive pole. In a pillow fight of the winless, it’s the Falcons at the New York Giants. Loser is left to wonder if not now, when?

There you have the picture of two Matts heading in different directions. At roughly the same advanced stage of their careers, one is inspiring visions of postseason and MVP possibilities while the other is busy applying tourniquets and giving CPR to hope.

These two are similar in their long identification with hard-luck franchises, tied forever to two of the 12 NFL outfits that haven’t yet won a Super Bowl. Both are the standards by which other quarterbacks that follow will be measured, holding all the meaningful franchise passing records. Stafford has averaged 274 yards passing per start, Ryan 272. And, while neither are the most mobile of specimens, both have spent a lot of time behind offensive lines that leak like old polybutylene pipe. They’ve paid heavy dues to belong to an exclusive club.

No Lions quarterback amassed more wins than did Stafford – 76 – yet that also came with the baggage of 90 losses. Ryan at least has the benefit of a winning overall record (113-94), although he’s been on a slide these last three-plus seasons (18-31). Ryan’s won four of his 10 postseason starts. Stafford made it to the playoffs only three times with the Lions and was bounced in the first round each time.

Anyway, you get the picture: Plenty of hard games and third-string network broadcasters up in the booth for both Matts. Although they have become fabulously wealthy in the process, and that is of great, fleecy comfort.

But Stafford is getting his chance to win now, and hooray for that. He came to that point in his career when he had to give up tilting at windmills in Detroit and begin lobbying for new venue. The Rams were eager, trading Jared Goff for Stafford, along with two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder.

The deal seemed to touch off an immediate bromance between Stafford and Rams coach Sean McVay – who is only two years his quarterback’s senior – and matches an offensive innovator with a strong-armed and strong-willed (as in 30 wins while trailing in the fourth quarter) trigger man.

As you would for any prisoner of mediocrity, you have to be glad for Stafford now that he has escaped Detroit and has the chance to truly explore his gifts with the Rams. Before it’s too late, before the body succumbs to football, Stafford has been given this second chance to show what he might do with a more ambitious team around him.

Just as you are forced to look at Ryan now and wonder where he’d be now if he were with a more competitive team. Much of the talk has been about how the Falcons need to divest themselves of their franchise quarterback for the sake of salary-cap relief. But what about moving on from Ryan for his sake? For the Falcons are in no position to repair themselves quickly and too many of Ryan’s good years have been wasted. He doesn’t have that many more to contribute to a remodel.

Football guarantees no one an uplifting last chapter, but that’s the fervent wish for the two Matts as they go their divergent ways this season.