Not only are Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan two of the NFL’s premier young guns, but they’ve staked their claim to potentially becoming two of the best in NFL history.
No, that’s not hyperbole.
With 12,394 passing yards in his first three seasons as a starter, Rodgers trails only Kurt Warner (12,612) during that timeframe in NFL history. His passer rating of 97.2 and interception percentage of 1.99 are the best in league annals.
With 33 career victories, Ryan is tied with Dan Marino for the most wins in NFL history by a quarterback in his first three seasons.
On Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, these elite quarterbacks will engage in their first playoff duel. Given their age, the stable and successful front office and coaching structures, and that their teams have been built for the long haul, it would hardly be a surprise if this would be the first of many playoff battles between these players.
Of the NFC’s six playoff quarterbacks, Ryan (25) and Rodgers (27) are the youngest, with only the Bears’ Jay Cutler (also 27) younger than 30. In fact, of the NFC’s top eight quarterbacks in terms of passer rating, only Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who turns 23 this week, is younger than Ryan and Rodgers. (See chart below.)
Rodgers has the glittering statistics, and now he’s got the playoff win under his belt after an efficient 18-of-27 performance with three touchdowns last weekend at Philadelphia. His seven touchdown passes in his first two playoff starts are a league record.
Ryan, who lost his only playoff game as a rookie in 2008, has lived up to his “Matty Ice” nickname with 13 victories coming in the fourth quarter or overtime. That includes six games this season, highlighted by the Falcons’ 20-17 win over the Packers on Nov. 28, when Ryan led a short drive to the winning field goal.
“I have a lot of respect for the way he plays,” Rodgers said on Tuesday. “I think he delivers the ball on time, he gets the ball out of his hands, doesn't take a lot of sacks. He obviously played at a Pro Bowl level this season and he's tough to beat at home (20-2 in Ryan’s career). So, he does a great job there in that dome and he's very efficient with that offense. He's a great player.”
Rodgers hasn’t been nearly as clutch, with a 2-13 record in games decided by four points or less, though that’s not entirely of his doing. In the Atlanta game, for instance, he led the offense on a game-tying touchdown drive of 90 yards in the final 5 minutes, only for the special teams to give up a big return to set up Ryan’s winning drive. Officially, Rodgers has led five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The late-game heroics notwithstanding, the key statistics point to these quarterbacks’ greatness.
— In their last two seasons, Rodgers has thrown 58 touchdown passes against 18 interceptions while Ryan has 50 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. That includes 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions by Rodgers and 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions by Ryan this season.
— In the fourth quarter of games with a margin of seven points or less, Rodgers’ passer rating is 94.2, with two touchdowns and one interception. Ryan’s rating is 88.3, with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
— On third down, Rodgers’ rating is 94.0 with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Ryan’s rating is 104.1 with 15 touchdowns, four interceptions and a league-high 85 first downs.
— In the red zone, Rodgers’ rating is 107.4 with 19 touchdowns and one interception. Ryan’s rating is 102.1 with 22 touchdowns and one interception.
— Against the blitz, Rodgers’ rating is 104.4 with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Ryan’s rating is 96.7 with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Not only are Rodgers and Ryan two of the league’s top guns, but they’re friends. While the spotlight will be on them on Saturday night, the individual matchup is the least of Rodgers’ concerns.
“I don't think about that too much, I really don't,” Rodgers said. “I look at that as Green Bay against Atlanta. As cliché as it is, if you know my personality I never really get into the mano-a-mano or quarterback-on-quarterback or quarterback on big-name defender. I just realize it's our 11 against their 11.”
NFC’s top quarterbacks
NFL ranking, player (age) and passer rating
3. Aaron Rodgers (27), 101.2
4. Michael Vick (30), 100.2
6. Josh Freeman (22), 95.9
11. Matt Ryan (25), 91.0
12. Drew Brees (32), 90.9
14. Jon Kitna (38), 88.9
16. Jay Cutler (27), 86.3
17. Eli Manning (30), 85.3
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.
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