Since arriving in New Orleans before the 2006 season, Drew Brees has set the bar at quarterback for the rest of the NFL. During his four-plus seasons with the Saints, he's number one in pass attempts, completions, yards and number two in touchdowns. Throw in a Super Bowl title and he's as good as there is.
This Sunday, he'll square off against Matt Ryan, a quarterback who is expected to deliver - before his career is over - a Super Bowl title of his own to a Falcon fanbase entering their 45th title-less season. While Brees is enjoying "Golden Boy" status and being the Madden cover athlete, Ryan has faced quite a bit of scrutiny since the playoff loss in Arizona at the conclusion of the 2008 season.
Following a tremendous rookie season - one that I argue was the best ever - reports surfaced that Ryan regressed in 2009 culminating in many news outlets - after the Steelers loss in Week 1 - questioning whether the Falcons' organization still had faith in him as the face of the franchise. After Ryan reclaimed the mantle of Matty Ice in his systematic destruction of the Cardinals last Sunday, those reports have cooled. Still, if Ryan struggles again - and he could against an opportunistic Saints' defense - the naysayers will again crawl out of the woodwork.
But they shouldn't. Here's why.
Ryan has started 33 games as an NFL quarterback while Brees will making his 124th start this Sunday. We've discussed where Brees is now as a quarterback but where was he when he was making his 34th start as a pro? Let's compare the numbers.
We can see that comparatively speaking, Ryan is well ahead of Brees at the same point in their respective careers. Now, you can argue scheme and surrounding talent play a big factor but the most important numbers - win/loss - are heavily in Ryan's favor. Throw in the fact that the average age of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback is 30 years old and Ryan has time.
What does the future hold for Ryan's next 90 starts? No one can know for sure, but after the first 33, there's reason for optimism.