Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
By Will Laws
September 10, 2014

If the Saints had found a way to beat the Falcons on Sunday, it would have been all too easy to predict the narratives that could have unfolded in post-game columns.

New Orleans is the “team to beat” in the NFC South! Atlanta isn’t ready to “return to primetime!” Drew Brees is “elite,” but Matt Ryan doesn’t have the “it” factor!

And why not? With the Saints gunning for their fifth playoff appearance in the last six years and Atlanta coming off a 4-12 campaign last season, all of those arguments would have had a fair amount of evidence.

Instead, Matt Ryan dealt a blow to those storylines by putting together one of the most impressive performances of his career, outplaying Brees in a critical divisional matchup. Not many other QBs have been able to make such a strong statement in Week One — only Tom Brady and the Manning brothers have had stronger openers in terms of yards over the past four seasons.

Ryan’s 448 yards were a franchise record, as were the 568 total yards the Falcons put up against a shell-shocked Saints defense.

Since 2000, only six other quarterbacks have thrown for more than 400 yards in a season opener. Five of those have appeared in Super Bowls (Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Colin Kaepernick), and the sixth, Cam Newton, shattered the record for passing yards in an NFL debut (421), catching the Cardinals’ defense off-guard back in 2011.

The Saints are very familiar with Ryan after years of NFC South clashes, so they knew what they were dealing with. But even the most optimistic of Falcons fans were likely surprised by the tailor-like skills that Ryan showcased in carving up New Orleans’ new-look secondary. Ryan completed 72.1 percent of his passes (31-for-43), threw three touchdowns with no interceptions and was only sacked once.

This is all coming after a 2013 campaign that saw virtually all of his passing statistics trend downward while he was sacked a career-high 44 times – an average of exactly one sack more per game than his previous high mark. But even last year, a year that saw him lose his two top wideouts and key parts of his offensive line for extended periods of time, Ryan was still able to rack up 4,515 passing yards at a 67.4 percent clip.

It was fitting that Ryan surpassed the Falcons team record for career touchdown passes (156) on Sunday. Ryan could very well be gearing up for his first 5,000 yard season – especially if Atlanta’s weak defense demands the need for more thrilling comebacks. He’s clearly the best signal-caller the franchise has ever started (sorry, Steve Bartkowski and Michael Vick), and this might be the year Ryan unequivocally inserts himself into the top tier of the league’s quarterbacks.

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