The Indianapolis Colts have one of the strangest quarterback rooms in the league this year.
Their starter, Matt Ryan, is one of the most prolific passers in league history, but he has made only one Super Bowl and that resulted in the infamous 28-3 meltdown against the Patriots in 2017.
Ryan has started all 222 regular season games he has appeared in during his career and missed only three games while passing for 59,735 yards. He has 367 touchdown passes and just 170 interceptions, but no rings.
Their No. 2, Nick Foles, is in his familiar role as a backup, but he did beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl the year after the Atlanta meltdown while filling in for Carson Wentz. They even have a statue of him in Philadelphia.
They both wound up in Indianapolis this year. Ryan became expendable in Atlanta after the Falcons tried and failed to sign Deshaun Watson. The Colts only gave up a third rounder for him. The Colts then signed Foles to be his backup. Coach Frank Reich was the quarterback coach in Foles’ Super Bowl winning year.
Now Ryan is at a crossroads. In the AFC, he faces a lot of young guns like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert and a Super Bowl winning veteran in Russell Wilson, who was within a yard of claiming a second consecutive Super Bowl two years before the Atlanta letdown and is now in Denver.
And he faces high expectations in Indianapolis. Can Ryan cap his career by finally winning a Super Bowl or will his legacy be 28-3? That is the question.
The loss to the Patriots is remembered for the New England comeback, but the Atlanta offense’s inability to score in the final period opened the door for the Patriots. All the Falcons needed was one field goal to put it out of reach but they were blanked in the fourth quarter.
After the Patriots cut the deficit to 28-9 with a third-quarter touchdown and missed a two-point conversion, the Falcons had the ball three times. On two of the drives they were just outside the Patriots 40 and 20.
They got just two firsts downs those three drives. And Ryan took a sack on each of the drives. And two critical holding penalties played a big role in the killing two of the drives along with some shaky play calling by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. On two of the drives, they had a second-and-1 and a third-and-1 and didn’t get a first down either time. And the Falcons defense wore down because they were on the field too much.
After the Patriots cut it to 28-9 late in third period, they tried an onside kick that the Falcons recovered just past the Patriots 40. After a nine-yard run, they were virtually in field-goal range, but a holding call made it second-and-11 and a dropped pass and a sack pushed them back to midfield and they punted.
The Patriots then kicked a field goal to cut it to 28-12. On the ensuing drive, an eight-yard run made it second-and-2, and another run made it third-and-1. Shanahan called for a pass instead of a run. Instead of making a quick throw, Ryan took a five/yard drop and a sack fumble gave the Patriots a short field and they made it 28-20 with 5:53 left.
The Falcons were pinned back on their nine on the ensuing kickoff but Ryan completed two passes – the second a spectacular catch by Julio Jones to give them a first down on the Patriots 22 with 4:38 left. All the Falcons had to do was run three plays and kick a field goal for an 11-point lead to clinch the win. But after the first-down run lost a yard, Shanahan decided to go to the air. A sack and holding penalty made it third-and-33, and the Falcons punted again.
The Patriots then drove for another score against a gassed Falcon defense that had been on the field too long and won the overtime toss, scored again and it was over.
The Falcons never really recovered. Both GM Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn were both eventually fired, and now Ryan is starting over in Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, Foles doesn’t know if he will see much action. He is likely to play only if Ryan is hurt.
Ryan has continued to put up big numbers. He has averaged 4,485 yards a season since 2018. If he does it again for the Colts, he will be fifth on the all-time passer list and that virtually guarantees him a bust in the Hall of Fame.
He is currently eighth with 59,735 and has a shot at passing Dan Marino, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger to move into fifth on the all-time list behind Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, who has 71,838.
But for all his passing yards, Ryan’s legacy isn’t that he is likely to throw for more yards than Marino, who also lost his only Super Bowl appearance but not in the meltdown fashion Ryan did. San Francisco simply had a better team than the Dolphins, so Marino’s loss isn’t remembered the way Ryan’s is.
Ryan’s legacy is still 28-3.
He gets a chance to change that legacy in Indianapolis.