We’re going to have to face the music.
In the next five years, arguably our greatest generation of quarterbacks finally will be done lacing it up.
Peyton Manning? Gone. Tom Brady and Drew Brees? Soon and sooner. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning? Aaron Rodgers? Prepare your goodbyes.
Who’s going to pass — or in this case, catch — the torch?
Well with one big game on Sunday, Matt Ryan can usher in the new wave of legendary quarterbacks. It won’t take much. Just beat Brady and the New England Patriots on the game’s grandest stage.
“I think every quarterback who has played in this league, they have all tried to emulate things that Tom does. He’s been so consistent,” Ryan told the media on Monday. “To me, the biggest thing and the thing that’s most impressive is his consistency throughout the years. He’s just played so well for so long. He works extremely hard, he’s incredibly committed to being great and those are things that I think I’ve tried to do as well.”
He makes his case.
In his ninth professional season, the Boston College product has taken a massive leap forward, finishing with career bests in passing yards (4,944), touchdowns (38), completion percentage (69.9) and interceptions (career-low 7). Given the keys to an offense that now actually has some horsepower — and a pretty good pit crew leader in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — Ryan has been downright brilliant this season.
The addition of Alex Mack at center stabilized an offensive line that was passable but not good, and Julio Jones and the dangerous backfield duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have turned Ryan from a good quarterback to a great one.
A win on Sunday would only cement that.
“I’ve been fortunate to win it (2007, 2010), so it’s a very cool thing because you think about how far you’ve come as a player. Everyone starts and kind of has their own football experience. To realize, ‘Man, I won that award — they only choose one guy and they chose me’ is very cool. But I think Matt has had an incredible year. I think he is as deserving as anybody. He’s got that team playing well,” Brady told WEEI’s Kirk and Callahan in January.
But this isn’t just Ryan’s time. This could be the ushering in of a whole new wave of championship quarterbacks. Heaven knows, we’ve waited a while.
Aside from Joe Fluke-o — er, Flacco — just one quarterback drafted 2006 or later has won a Super Bowl: Russell Wilson, who guided the Seahawks past Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.
Beyond that, no one.
Sooner or later, that’s going to change.
Face the facts: The Manning-Brady-Brees-Manning-Roethlisberger-Rodgers stretch from 1998-2005 has accounted for 12 of the last 15 championships. That’s never really happened before.
In the early days of the NFL, the second generation of great quarterbacks didn’t come into the forefront until Joe Montana won his first Super Bowl in XVI. Before that, no quarterback drafted after 1970 had won one.
The 1980s were dominated by Montana and a cast of others drafted between 1978-1982, with one old dog sprinkled in — Jim Plunkett, who won Super Bowl XVIII with the Raiders at the age of 36 — and the 1990s went to the kiddos, as half the titles went to those drafted in 1989 or later.
And then, it was Brady’s turn … and Manning’s, Manning’s, Roethlisberger’s, Brees’ and Rodgers’ turns, too.
Now the question will be, does Ryan fit in as the baby of that crew or as the elder statesman of the current wave, which also features Matthew Stafford (drafted in 2009), Sam Bradford (2010), Cam Newton and Andy Dalton (2011), Andrew Luck, Wilson, Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill (2012).
Given the three-year gap between Rodgers’ drafting and Ryan’s, it makes more sense to stick Ryan at the kid’s table, even if he is slightly longer-in-the-tooth than the aforementioned.
Either way, if Ryan wins, it will certainly signal to the rest of the league that the most iconic era of NFL quarterbacks is on its way out, and a new dawn is upon us.