INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Ryan is entering the second chapter of his decorated career, and the overriding motivation is the same as was the case in each of his first 14 seasons.
“I think you always have something to prove,’’ Ryan said Wednesday. “I think when you lose that, maybe it’s time to be done.’’
Clearly, Ryan isn’t done.
He’s 37 – only Tom Brady (45), Aaron Rodgers (38) and Joe Flacco (37) are older among opening-day starting quarterbacks – but in March the Indianapolis Colts were convinced he still had more to offer. When the Atlanta Falcons pursued Deshaun Watson, Ryan asked for a trade that would lead to his relocation to Indy.
Just like that, his motivation increased exponentially.
Not only was he on the downside of a Hall of Fame-caliber career, but he had been discarded by an organization that had selected him with the 3rd overall pick in 2008.
Prove it. Again.
“I have no doubt he feels like that,’’ Frank Reich said. “I have no doubt we all feel like that; every one of our players.
“I hope Matt feels like that. We’re all motivated by different things.’’
Reich paused, and mentioned he shouldn’t be speaking for Ryan.
“I would say this: Just getting to know Matt the way that I know him, he had such a great career,’’ Reich said. “He left on good terms as far as relationship-wise. It never feels good when that happens, but he’s such a pro he understands that it does happen. I don’t think there’s anything too personal other than that.
“I think Matt’s excited to be on this team, with this organization. Nothing wrong with that. Great career in Atlanta – great organization in Atlanta – but this is a new chapter. He’s excited about it. We’re excited to have him.’’
Every player is driven to succeed. But a few are able to draw on a different level of motivation.
DeForest Buckner can relate to one of the underlying motivations for Ryan.
In February 2020, he was one of the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive cornerstones. He was named second-team All-Pro in 2019, and the 49ers were coming off a Super Bowl loss to Kansas City.
In March, he was traded to the Colts.
“He doesn’t really voice it, but definitely I think it motivates him,’’ Buckner said. “Every good competitor finds a way to motivate himself.
“I know those feelings. For whatever reason, (the Niners) moved on.’’
He took it personally.
“Yeah, I did,’’ Buckner said. “I put my heart and soul into that organization. I gave it my all. (The Colts) gave me an opportunity. They believed in me. I wanted to repay the favor.’’
Buckner was in San Francisco for four seasons. Ryan was the face of the Falcons for 14.
“He’s definitely an Atlanta legend,’’ he said. “A change of scenery will be good for him.
“I know he’s ready to show he’s still got it, and he does. You see that from watching him during training camp and practices. You see the type of leader he is.’’
Coaches and players have raved about Ryan’s leadership qualities from day 1. Some have compared his presence to Peyton Manning.
Ryan is demanding, but quick to counsel teammates. He has a standard that must be met. Mistakes in practice aren’t tolerated.
“He’s the vet guy in there, a leader,’’ Michael Pittman Jr. said. “He’s been there many times.’’
Pittman has noticed more attention to detail and adhering to structure with Ryan leading practices.
“It’s different in how Matt likes to read things and how he likes things done versus last year,’’ he said. “Last year we would just go out there and run around and make plays.
“This year we’re trying to be organized. Be on your spots, be at your depth. That’s just how he likes it. That’s how he commands us. That’s just what he expects, so we’d better be there.’’
Lofty expectations will follow the Colts into their season of atonement. They’re considered at least the co-favorite with Tennessee to win the AFC South, in large part because of a busy offseason that added a proven edge pass rusher (Yannick Ngakoue) and a proven top-tier cornerback (Stephon Gilmore).
So much, though, hinges on Ryan being an upgrade over Carson Wentz.
He’s Reich’s fifth different starting quarterback in as many seasons, following Wentz, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett and Andrew Luck.
He’s the undeniable catalyst, and he knows it.
“I understand the position I play comes with a lot of extracurricular,’’ Ryan said. “There’s a lot of attention whether you want it or not, and I’ve always felt like you have to embrace it.
“In this league, there’s responsibility that comes with playing this position and an understanding of all that goes along with it. I feel like at this point in my career, I’m probably better served than ever to be able to handle all of the things that go along with it.
“But as far as pressure, I feel good. I feel really good.’’
Ryan brings a distinguished resume to Indy: 2016 MVP and a trip to the Super Bowl that season, 59,735 yards (8th all-time), 367 touchdowns (9th), 65.5 completion percentage (9th). His 42 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime are tied for 7th-most.
But none of that matters.
The Ryan-led Falcons endured losing seasons the last four years. There certainly were extenuating circumstances – a shoddy offensive line, the lack of a running game, an unreliable defense – but Ryan was the man under center.
So, prove it. Again.
“I’ve always felt that way,’’ Ryan said. “I certainly feel like I have a lot to prove. This team has a lot to prove, and the games are our opportunities to do that.
“So, I feel like my motivation . . . is as strong as it’s ever been, and I’m just excited to get started.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.