Maybe this would not be a story if their first names were different.
If we were talking about Jameis Ryan and Eli Stafford, instead of Matt and Matt, who knows? Is there even a connection?
But the two Matts, for some reason, seem inexorably linked, and no, it’s not because their wives have become friends.
No, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Stafford of the Detroit Lions are now the future of the position in the NFL, and their 2016 seasons are proof.
Stafford is having the best year of his career, with a passer rating of 105.7 after throwing 15 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions in seven games. More importantly, the Lions, who are without Calvin Johnson for the first time in Stafford’s career, are 4-3 and winners of three straight games.
Ryan had the Falcons steamrolling out of the gates at 4-1, though two losses by a combined five points in the last two weeks has soured the hot start. That’s no fault of Ryan, who, like Stafford, is off to the best start of his career with a 113.6 rating and 2,348 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
As Tom Brady presumably fades – I mean, he has to right? Or is he simply a model-marrying, touchdown-tossing robot? – and as Drew Brees and Carson Palmer inch closer to their grand exits and as the terrific Class of ’04 trio of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger drift into their twilight years, it will be Ryan and Stafford who carry the NFL into the next era.
Who else could it be?
Of the 47 quarterbacks selected from 2006-2009, precisely three remain relevant: Ryan, Stafford and Joe Flacco, and if his name was Matt Flacco, this really would be something special.
But it’s not, so Matty Twice (all credit to CBS NFL reporter John Breech on that one) will have to suffice.
And they will.
They entered the league a year apart, drafted at (in Stafford’s case in 2009) or near (in Ryan’s case in 2008) the top of the NFL Draft, expected to rescue franchises that seemed hard-wired for frustration.
For Stafford, that meant somehow pulling the Lions from the depths of despair; for Ryan, it meant finally putting the Falcons, who’d been close to the Promised Land before, over the top.
For each, there has been two parts success, one part squander.
Stafford has been very good in his career, and at times, great.
But his ascension this season is a clear indication he turned the corner with offensive coordinator Joe Bob Cooter. Last year, Stafford had his best season since his third year in the NFL, finishing with 32 touchdowns and 4,262 passing yards; this year, he’s improved even more, across the board. Stafford’s completion percentage is up (career-high 68.1); his yards-per-attempt has skyrocketed nearly three-quarters of a yard from 7.20 last year to 7.94; he’s on pace for career-best passing yards and touchdowns while cutting his interceptions drastically.
And, again, all this without MegaTron. In Johnson’s place, former Cincinnati Bengals wideout Marvin Jones Jr., who has become Stafford’s top target, and Golden Tate, who emerged from a quiet start to post 258 yards and a score in the last two weeks.
“When you have guys who’ve been around the block like Matthew, he has been a great settling force when it’s tight,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said this week. “No. 1, he does not back down from top situations, he relishes in them, doesn’t get nervous, has a real clear focused mind when there’s chaos all around you. He rises to the occasion, time and time again.”
Ryan, like Stafford, is in the midst of rewriting his own record books.
Ryan has been reliable for the Falcons for years, particularly impactful after Julio Jones came aboard in 2011. Since 2012, he’s had a completion percentage anywhere from 66.1 in 2014 to 68.6 in 2012. His 67.6 percent clip this year is his best since that year, and his 16 scores and 2,348 passing yards put him on pace to break both individual marks (4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns), both set in 2012, too.
With Jones seeing his healthiest stretch since coming into the league, it’s clear they’ve set out to become the top tandem in the league.
“He knows the playbook better,” the NFL Network’s Charlie Casserly said. “He’s more aggressive, more confident when he’s throwing. One of the things, they’ve kind of taken some things out of the playbook – the bootlegs and having him move – now they don’t do so much of that.”
Speaking of not moving: Get used to another decade of the Matthew Brothers.
They’re not leaving the conversation for a while.