He’s always been good. He’s always been a winner. He’s always been dangerous.
Now, in his ninth season and at 31 years old, he’s better than ever.
Matt Ryan, an Exton, Pa. native and the third pick in the 2008 draft, is enjoying a historic season for the Falcons, who visit the Linc on Sunday.
Complete coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles and their NFL rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
The Falcons are 6-3, and Ryan has thrown for 2,980 yards – ninth-most in NFL history after nine games – and his 119.0 passer rating is fifth-highest in NFL history after nine games. He has 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions and has completed 69.7 percent of his passes, and both those also rank among the top 15 in NFL history at this point in the season.
Ryan has started 135 games in his career and had a passer rating of 100 or higher 56 times – most in NFL history by a quarterback in his first nine seasons.
“I’ve continued to get better throughout my entire career and absolutely you put a certain standard out there for yourself and there’s a certain expectation for what you’re capable of doing and winning games is first and foremost for that standard,” Ryan said.
“It’s hard to do. It’s hard to win a game in this league, that’s for sure. I’ve definitely put a high standard out there for myself and expect myself to play really well.”
Ryan entered this season with very good numbers for his first eight seasons. His 90.9 passer rating was 12th-best in NFL history, and his 64.4 completion percentage was ninth-best.
In just nine weeks, he’s moved up to 92.7 and 64.7.
He’s got a solid running game, dangerous receivers, an above-average offensive line, and he’s taking advantage of all of it.
Julio Jones is having a monster year, with 51 catches for 970 yards and five touchdowns already. But Rutgers graduate Mohamed Sanu (37-for-416), running back Devonta Freeman (620 yards rushing, 220 receiving) and running Tevin Coleman (564 total yards, six TDs) have all been big parts of the Atlanta offense.
In all, the Falcons have seven guys with at least 200 receiving yards.
“We’ve had a lot of guys make plays,” Ryan said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We’ve been spreading the ball around in the passing game, a lot of people getting involved, a lot of different people getting touches, and we’ve run the ball really well too, and I think that sets up everything for us.
“If we can get the run game going and get our running backs involved it makes the defense defend everything, and we’ve done a good job of that this year.”
The Falcons are averaging a staggering 429 yards per game, 13th-highest in NFL history after nine games, and 33.9 points per game, 16th-highest ever at this point in a season.
This is what the Eagles are facing.
“He’s always been a productive quarterback, especially when getting protection,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who faced Ryan twice a year from 2009 through 2013 when he was with the Saints.
“Their run game - even back when they used to have (Michael) Turner — that’s when he was really good, as well. They had a run game that was the same thing -- two-back formation, 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends), play action pass, slot, they’re a lot of the same stuff now.
“So whenever he’s paired with a really good run game, he’s got all of the arm skills and all of the brains at the line of scrimmage to put them in a good play, get in and out of runs, get into play actions.”
Ryan is having a historic year but even more historic considering that he’s 31 years old and in his ninth season.
His 119.0 passer rating would be highest in NFL history by a quarterback 31 or older, and his 331 yards per game and 41 touchdown passes would be fourth-highest ever.
“I think I’m definitely more efficient than I was early on,” Ryan said. “I think you find what works for you as your get further into your career.
“I feel like I’m in a good place, I have a really good routine, understand what I need to watch and how to get prepared week in and week out, and then a lot of focus has to come back on us.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve learned, too. It’s important to know your opponent and have a great idea of what they’re going to do, but it’s always most important to make sure that we know our plan best.”
Ryan is 3-2 all-time against his hometown team, but he’s won his last three starts, including a 26-24 decision in last year’s season opener at the Georgia Dome.
In his career, he has a 91.1 passer rating – 11th-highest ever against the Eagles.
Ryan said his late-career improvement has come through continued focus on the mental side of the game.
“I think it’s a better recognition of coverages, first and foremost,” he said. “The longer you play, you know what certain coverages look like. Teams do such a good job of disguising and making it difficult on you, and so recognition of spots and what spots look like in certain coverages and knowing how to attack that I think that’s the No. 1 thing.
“And then you’ve got to trust what you see. You do all the pre-snap work that you can during the week and during the offseason to understand how defenses work and all those kind of things. But when it comes time for the game, you’ve got to trust what you see, and we’ve done a pretty good job of that this year.”