Matt Ryan led one of the best offenses in NFL history in 2016– the best season of his career so far. He captured the league MVP and led his Atlanta Falcons team to the Super Bowl, after they missed the playoffs the year before.
In 2015, the year prior, Ryan had one of his least impressive seasons as a pro, and the Falcons offense cratered because of it.
Read this to find out how Ryan’s Ice athlete mindset helped him out work the competition in the offseason, essentially going from the worst year in his career in 2015 to an MVP campaign in 2016:
On the surface, the name Matty Ice plays to Ryan’s well-known clutch performances, his ability to stay cool when the lights are the brightest.
Maybe inadvertently though, the nickname also plays into Ryan’s mindset: He is an Ice athlete.
Ice athletes are defined by their two most important factors: they are goal driven and self critical. It’s not often you see or hear about Matt Ryan not trying to improve when things are looking down for his team, and that is because he sees poor team performances as a result of his needing to improve.
“That’s how I know him, quite honestly,” Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has said about Ryan, “Matt is a great leader. And his teammates respect him. He is demanding. He’s not only demanding on everyone, but he’s demanding of himself.”
That sort of attitude is important for a quarterback, and something you would expect from an Ice athlete. They are competitive and hate losing, and aren’t afraid to hold themselves accountable for mistakes and faults– pushing themselves during the season and even harder in the offseason to come back ready to help their team when the next season rolls around.
This is something we’ve seen from Matt Ryan time and time again in his career. As you can see in this video clip from after the 2015 season the Falcons missed the playoffs in large part due to the struggles of Ryan and the offense (starting at 1:40):
In 2015, the Falcons finished 21st in the league in scoring per game in the NFL at a measly 21 points per game. The offense shriveled as Ryan threw for 21 touchdowns in 2015, the lowest in his career since his rookie season, along with 16 interceptions, just one below his career worst mark.
“It’s disappointing when you don’t have an opportunity to keep playing in the playoffs, and you didn’t play as well as you would have liked,” Ryan said, “Obviously that’s disappointing– there’s some things we can correct. There’s a lot of things we did well this year, we just didn’t do them often enough and I didn’t do them often enough.”
So how would Ryan respond to one of his worst seasons in his career? Through an offseason of hard work and goal setting, inspired through his distaste for his poor performance effecting his team the year before, Ryans 2016 season would end up being the best in his career so far, and would earn him the NFL MVP trophy.
In an interview with CNN before Super Bowl 51, Ryan talked about the preparation it took to make the jump, “I think that when you believe in what you’re doing, it’s amazing how that leads to self peace or confidence going into games. The Navy SEALs talk all the time about how you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your preparation,” Ryan said, adding, “I believe that you prepare the right way so that when the situation comes you can do exactly what you prepared yourself to do.”
Ryan put together his most impressive season as a pro in 2016, completing passes at the highest rate in his career at nearly 70 percent, throwing for nearly 5000 yards, all while his touchdowns spiked from 21 in 20015 to a career high 38 in 2016. This, while cutting out the mistakes that had plagued him the year before– his interceptions dropped from 16 in 2015 to his lowest total ever, 7.
His incredible turnaround from 2015 to 2016 also sparked his team from being an 8-8 middling franchise, to an 11-5 juggernaut that would compete for the Super Bowl.
“I knew how good a player he was because I coached against him,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said about Ryan after his 2016 turnaround, “What I didn’t know was how good a competitor he is. This guy is a top competitor. I found that out… We’re real fortunate that he went from already being a good player to going even further. That’s where it gets hard. He took his good game and made it better. That’s hard to do. He’s ready to go for it again. That’s one of the things I most admire about him is his willingness to get a little better every year.”
Of course, that Super Bowl appearance wasn’t the dream ending to the season Ryan had put so much work and effort into, partly because of the quarterback on the other side of the field that day was none other than Tom Brady.
The Falcons lost in perhaps the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable, fumbling away a 28-3 lead on the Patriots, resulting in a loss that would shake most players confidence forever moving forward.
Ryan adjusted to the heartbreaking loss and its aftermath the only way an Ice athlete could: he got back to work– setting new goals and pushing himself to get even better.
“As I worked, I started to feel better,” Ryan said in an interview with CBS sports, “Getting back to work is one of the best things you can do to get over it. Doing what you love to do helps, and working to get better is what I love to do.”