"The amazing thing is that they did it so early in their career -- they didn't slip," said
After Ryan and Flacco helped lead their teams to the playoffs, how can they avoid backsliding in their upcoming sophomore campaigns?
Gilbride, who has coached
"A quarterback will only play as well as the guys around him, but I would fully expect them to be better," Gilbride said. "They can't help but be proud of the success they had."
Ryan was joined in the backfield by an effective running back in
Ryan and Flacco's handle of the rigors of the position should only deepen. Gilbride recalled scouting Flacco during the quarterback's senior year at Delaware, trying to project his future in the NFL.
"I saw three games," Gilbride said. "In the first two games I thought that he could be a good NFL quarterback, maybe a backup."
Then Delaware played Navy. Flacco threw for 434 yards and four touchdowns. "That's when I thought, 'This guy could be a star,'" Gilbride said.
Like Flacco, Ryan's trajectory should continue to rise in his second year after throwing for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns as a rookie (Flacco threw for 2,971 yards and 14 touchdowns). Falcons coach
Though both Ryan and Flacco enjoyed dream-like rookie seasons, each must understand that the '09 season will not unfold the same way, no matter how much was accomplished in Year 1.
This, ultimately, is the quarterback's burden, that no matter what high points and potholes a team hits, he remains the face of the franchise in all seasons. He is the guy who touches the football more than any other. He is the man who knows that praise and criticism come in heavy doses. He is the reason a team will eventual thrive or fail.
"Everything," said 49ers coach