The other day, I found myself watching a re-run of "America's Game: The 2012 Baltimore Ravens," the excellent NFL Films re-telling of the Ravens 2012 Super Bowl season.
Near the end of the episode, something interesting struck me about that season, that I had never thought of before. Prior to the 2012 AFC Championship between the Ravens and the New England Patriots, head coach John Harbaugh is describing the story of how he heard that his brother Jim had just won the NFC to take the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.
"Before the game, we were out there in pregame, and we were watching the end of the Niners-Falcons game," Harbaugh said. "I saw the play where they stopped the Falcons on the five-yard line to win the game, and they were going to the Super Bowl. And it kind of hit me, you know. My brother is going to the Super Bowl." That made for a very interesting game, but I found myself wondering what would've happened if the Falcons had scored and gone on to play the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
The question was on my mind for a somewhat obvious reason; one of the more interesting quarterback rivalries I can remember would've had a signature game that it's been lacking for eight years now.
That rivalry is the one between Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. This is not a very traditional rivalry by the league's standard. Instead, these guys are only considered that because they were the two quarterbacks of note from the 2008 NFL draft class, and were the first two selected.
Ryan was taken third overall by Atlanta, and Flacco 18th overall by the Ravens, after some trading took place. In many ways, they were both perfect fits for their respective franchises. Ryan was a crisp and polished pocket passer from Boston College who could fling it all over the field. Flacco was a stoic and sturdy signal caller from double-A Delaware, with a howitzer for a right arm, and a cool and tough demeanor that would perfectly fit the AFC North.
Over their eight years in the league, the two quarterbacks have had great success, both on the stat sheet and in the win columns. But there is one distinct difference between these two that is very intriguing.
That difference is their statistical output, and arguably performance, in the playoffs, compared to the regular season.
In the regular season, Ryan has a clear edge over Flacco. He has been very good throughout his eight years in the league and has had stretches where he has looked simply dominant. This is backed up by his 202 career passing touchdowns, against 107 interceptions, as well as 24 fourth quarter comebacks, and 31 game winning drives. By comparison, Flacco has 162 career touchdowns against 102 interceptions, with 17 fourth quarter comebacks, and 24 game winning drives.
In the postseason, the statistical edge flips to Flacco's favor. In 15 playoff starts over five appearances, Flacco has 25 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and is the author of one of the great playoff runs in the history of the league when the Ravens made their 2012 Super Bowl run. By comparison, Ryan has started five playoff games in four appearances, posting nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Obviously, there is a clear disparity in a number of games played, with Flacco starting in 10 more postseason contests than Ryan, but it can't be argued that Flacco has had more success when given the opportunity.
But what I find most intriguing about this rivalry is that these two players have only ever met twice in the regular season. The first was a back and forth primetime shootout in which Ryan and the Falcons came away with the victory. The second was a 2014 blowout win for Baltimore in which the Ravens defense shined, and Ryan simply couldn't mask the deficiencies of a bad team.
So when I was watching the "America's Game," documentary, and I heard Harbaugh's anecdote about the Falcons not getting it done in 2012, I couldn't help but feel like a Ravens/Falcons Super Bowl would have been awesome. Not only would Ryan and Flacco have had another meeting in a rivalry that could use it, but it would have been on the biggest possible stage. Has there ever been a Super Bowl in which the two top quarterbacks from the same draft class have faced off? If there is, I can't remember one.
But more than anything else, this game would have been a Super Bowl showdown between two of my favorite quarterbacks in the league. The reasons are obvious with Flacco; he can be maddening, but he's money when it counts.
The reason I've come to like Matt Ryan is because in many ways he is like a bizarro version of Flacco. A lot of Flacco's playoff success in the win column is in part thanks to the good teams that he has been on. If nothing else, playing for good teams early in his career allowed to him to produce more in the postseason, adding on to his playoff statistics. This isn't at all to diminish his role, but it did seem that as a young quarterback, he played something of a second fiddle to the running game and excellent defenses that he had.
Ryan's career is an interesting parallel; while he's often had a superior receiving core, the Falcons have never seemed to prioritize running the ball or playing good defense, and they have struggled to keep Ryan upright. Despite the stats not being overly impressive, he has been pretty good in the playoffs, especially in some of his more recent appearances. Here's to hoping that Ryan and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn can get back to the playoffs so he can show the league what he can do.
Going off of that here's to hoping that both quarterbacks rebound from somewhat disappointing seasons by their standards. If they can, I know I'll be rooting for a Super Bowl LI matchup between Joe Cool and his friend, Matty Ice.