Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan closes in on 5K completions, a mark only six QBs have reached

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons quarterback, doesn't recall them all. Sure, the first one. Without a doubt, the big moments. Many of Ryan's passes over the past 14 seasons blurred into a tapestry.
Even a near-photographic memory can lose some photos when there are thousands of them.

Ryan stated, "With 5,000 coming down," Ryan added, "I think anybody is lying to you that says they remember every one."

Ryan will be the seventh player to complete 5,000 regular season passes in NFL history. Ryan joins Drew Brees (New Orleans), Tom Brady, Green Bay, Brett Favre (New England), Ben Rothlisberger(Pittsburgh) and Ben Rothlisberger (1st).

Ryan shrugs off any accolades or accomplishments like his recent achievement of becoming the 10th player to throw 350 touchdown passes in NFL history. Ryan has achieved this milestone by not focusing on the past, but instead focusing on the present.

Ryan doesn't even collect footballs. He estimates he has between 20 and 30 from his professional career. They aren't under lock and key, but they are "being launched around my house right now" by my children. He has never considered it important.

Ryan stated, "The more you think about the long-term or legacy types of things, the less you worry about what's most important in that week." "I try not to compartmentalize. That's something I am proud of."

The importance lies in the outcome of those footballs. They were the ones that resulted in wins, touchdowns, and divisional titles. The almost 5,000 completed.

Ryan claims he can recall a few hundred words in a matter of seconds. He would likely recall half of the play if he had seen it. Perhaps even more. They are the ones who stand out to the receivers who catch passes from him.

Michael Jenkins (No. 11, 133 catches, 1,770 yards, five touchdowns)

Zero strong 62 comet sink.

Ryan will always remember this one. It will always be his first everything. It was his first all: Pass. Completion. Touchdown. In Week 1, his rookie year, he made a 62-yard play against Detroit Lions.

They had worked on the play during training camp and organized group activities. Ryan's early years saw it as a staple. It consisted of a curl, a flat, and then a skinny, where Jenkins lined up on one side.

Ryan asked Mike Mularkey, then offensive coordinator, for a familiar play to use for his first pass. Find a rhythm, complete it and get in. Since high school, he had been running the curl-flat idea. "99%" of his time would be spent on that side.

It was not possible to see it all.

Jenkins stated, "The defense demonstrated exactly what they were going do so I knew that if I ran my course, the ball would be on point and just as it had been throughout training camp." The ball was at my feet when I hit the center step. The safety was out-of-position and the ball was able to be run to the end zone without incident.

"Off Matt went for his career."

Jenkins stated that if the safety was in place, it wouldn’t have been touchdown. Is it a catch? Probably. It was a play that the Falcons used quite often in their season. Ryan, who was a rookie at the time, had a lot of safe options and, with the right look, a big play possibility.

Jenkins stated that he did everything possible to get Ryan the ball. Ryan doesn't have the jersey and helmet. Ryan has the jersey and helmet. His first touchdown, completion and win? That ball is lost in the ethers.

The memories are still there.

The Bears won a 19-19 victory against Chicago in Week 6. Six seconds left, Ryan completed a 26-yard corner to Jenkins. This was dubbed "Play No. In their two-minute offense, 8, set up a game-winning Jason Elam field goal.

Jenkins stated, "Right on his money, while he was hit." "I don’t know if he saw it completed. This kid is a great talent, so make sure you are making those throws early in your career.

Ryan's most memorable moments are those two. He was a rookie and this was the completion that created the first of his 39 game winning drives and 31 fourth quarter comebacks.

"That one is a memorable experience for me. Ryan stated that the best ones are those I have made early in my career. It's so fresh. It's so new. It's so overwhelming to be in the NFL, those one's kind of stick."

Harry Douglas (No. 4, 257 catches; 3,122 yards; eight touchdowns

Douglas and Ryan were drafted together in 2008. They have always been close friends. Douglas realized very early that he could be in a good position by making two throws to Jenkins. Douglas could not pick his favorite catches, but he did choose two or five.

Douglas stated that the chemistry they had on the field was a result of the activities he organized off the field. Douglas said that he was happy to meet up with others and plan what he wanted after practice on the field.

Harry Douglas and Matt Ryan were both in the Falcons draft class in 2008. AP Photo/David Goldman

Ryan even organized 7-on-7 sessions at Buford High School so that they could be ready for the lockout. He made sure his players were taken care of, rather than them learning everything from him.

Ryan is a great teacher and he loves to quiz younger players. Ryan also goes to his receivers to get their feedback on the signals he should use in no-huddle. Ryan can learn more quickly than a room full of players. This included driving a truck to signal to a semi route, or switching up plays by using 'Easy Easy'.

Douglas stated, "We loved to be huddled together." "And we trusted Matt 100%, and it was his responsibility to assess the defense and get us into best play."

Roddy White (No. 2, 643 catches, 8,422 yards, 52 touchdowns)

White was shocked to see Ryan throw his first pass. Ryan was just drafted No. Atlanta drafted Ryan No. 2. He was there to meet the OTAs team and began warming up with them.

White stated, "You just go down and pat-and-go. It's the easiest throw to make to receivers. We don't move very fast and everything is just an jog." He threw the largest duck.

"And I was like: 'Ah ---, might we be in trouble.'

Roddy White was initially apprehensive about Matt Ryan's future, but he quickly became a fan. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Falcons were not in danger. Ryan and White became one of the NFL’s most prolific connections. Perhaps not more than in Atlanta against Cincinnati 2010, when White had 11 catches and 201 yards, and two touchdowns.

Two receptions stand out. White's favorite catch was the first, where he nabbed the ball from two feet above the ground. This was a rare throw that White did not aim at his helmet or numbers. He grabbed the ball in a place only he could reach. White took an underhand route through the middle, the play was called "Chief", and he grabbed the ball at full speed.

White stated, "He kinda threw the ball low and I was running towards the left and I caught it with one handed, caught it using my left hand low, boom! caught it!" "... This was one I thought of myself. It was something like, "Run this way, catch it going left."

Ryan audibled into the second play, which he grabbed one-handed on the sideline and threw over his shoulder. Because of their chemistry, White could make it.

Ryan's favorite White completion was in the playoffs against Seattle 2013. It was a deep post -- Ryan called it "a great route" Ryan's first playoff win featured a 47-yard pass that gave Atlanta a 20-0 lead. It was one of the two highlights.

Tony Gonzalez (No. 3, 383 catches, 3,956 yards, 35 touchdowns)

Gonzalez began to describe another play, but he eventually stopped and changed his mind. This play was just too good. Gonzalez, who Gonzalez considers the "probably the greatest strong safety ever" on him, ran to the end zone from the 1-yard line against Seattle. He's now covered.

Gonzalez adjusts his corner route mid-play on the play he is supposed to make. Gonzalez stopped at the end line and let Chancellor run past him. He got his right foot down and looked down to make sure he was inbounds.

Tony Gonzalez was a player in the final five NFL seasons. He played with Matt Ryan and threw 35 touchdown passes. John Bazemore/AP Photo

Gonzalez stated, "I put the brakes down and I remember that it was a flash in my mind as I was doing it. But Matt will know exactly where I am at." That's how close we were. He knew exactly what I was going do, and I knew exactly what he was going do.

These four years of chemistry and four years of work together had led to this meeting, which took place shortly after Gonzalez moved from Kansas City. Gonzalez, who was coming off his NFL rookie of the year season, realized Ryan was different.

Ryan was admired for his seriousness and attention to detail. He also appreciated Ryan's willingness to take every day as an opportunity to learn. Ryan organized player meetings to ensure everyone understood everything. He transformed from a talented young quarterback to becoming one of the best in the NFL.

The touchdown-scoring adlib Gonzalez was the result of all this familiarity. He can be compared to a point guard who leads a fast break and instinctively knows where his options will take him.

Ryan stated, "We placed it on a back shoulder spot and he toe-tapped. He basically fell over." Ryan said that it was a shot behind the defender's head, on a back-shoulder shot on an endline. "It was basically just a shot in the back of a defender's neck, and that's one thing when you have a man that can do that you have have to give him opportunities to play with the ball.

Julio Jones (No. 1, 833 catches, 12,628 yards, 59 touchdowns)

After White and Gonzalez were traded, Jones' relationship with Jones became the longest of his football careers. It was a decade of pass and catch that was a major part of Ryan and Jones' legacy.

Ryan is the most connected person I know.

Jones stated, "It's all about trust."

Super Bowl LI was the best example of this, when it made one of the greatest catches in NFL history. Ryan sprinted right and threw it to Jones. Jones had two defenders nearby, including Patriots corner Eric Rowe.

Julio Jones and Matt Ryan became one of the greatest quarterback-receiver teams in NFL history. AP Photo/David Goldman

Jones leapt over Rowe and made the catch. Jones was a little like Gonzalez's playoff catch against Seattle but with a bit more speed.

Ryan stated that he had played with Ryan for so many years, it wasn't a great way to show it off but there are some guys in your career you have to give opportunities to. Ryan said, "And certainly in crucial situations you have to provide them with opportunities and I tried my best to place it in a position where only he could obtain it.

"Turned to be a good place, a great catch."

Ryan believed that Ryan's play could help Atlanta secure the game and the Lombardi trophy.

There's a Jones catch, however. It was the next season against New England. Atlanta was at the 1-yard line, and Malcolm Butler lined up on Jones' right side. Jones ran a fade, and Butler covered him tighter that Rowe in Super Bowl. It didn't matter.

Ryan stated, "He basically stole the ball away from the defender" Ryan said, "That was quite a ridiculous catch."

Calvin Ridley (No. 6, 237 catches, 3,169 yards, 25 touchdowns)

Ryan's current No. Ryan's current No. 1 receiver returned to the third year of his rookie season in 2018. Ridley had seven receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns at home against New Orleans.

Ryan and Jones informed Ridley that he would be needed in a major way at the age of 23 after he had just scored his first touchdown.

"I believed it. Ridley stated that he sat down and watched the film, listened to older men and listened carefully to his coach. It was exactly how we had planned. It worked out exactly as planned.

Ridley scored in each quarter. Ridley's first touchdown was an 18-yarder. He lined up on his right side and stopped midway through to grab P.J. Ryan then placed the ball in the end zone, causing Williams to lose his balance.

Matt Ryan's No. 1 target is Calvin Ridley. Matt Ryan's current No. 1 target, and will continue to be so for many years. Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ridley lined up wide to the right and beat Williams at the line for the second touchdown. Ryan saw it and threw it up, making it a touchdown of 75 yards.

Ryan stated, "He absolutely smoked me on the right side and showed just how dynamic his speed was." Ryan said, "That was one that was eye-opening for me. It was like, Wow, man! This guy can absolutely fly. That's one thing I will always remember about him.

The third touchdown was improvised. Ridley was lined up on Ridley's left, and the play stopped. Ryan scrambled while Ridley ran in the end zone. Ridley created some space. Ryan found Ryan.

It was Ridley's first breakthrough day, and it marked the beginning of many more.

Ridley stated, "It's to the point where he trusts in me to get where I need to go." Ridley said, "You know what? He may throw it at me when he doesn’t have to." Trust has increased from the rookie year to a new level.

Olamide Zaccheaus (No. 29, 29 catches for 458 yards and three touchdowns

The first connection between Ryan, Zaccheaus and their 7-yard line was the most memorable. It was Ryan's longest pass -- 93 yards. It was a symmetry for Zaccheaus.

It was Zaccheaus’ first catch. It was Zaccheaus' first catch. Zaccheaus positioned himself on the left side and took off to have one-on-one coverage of Donte Jackson.

Olamide Zaccheaus converted Matt Ryan's first catch into a touchdown of 93 yards. Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire

Ryan had thrown the ball to Ryan, but he caught it in the middle of field. Jackson missed the tackle, and Zaccheaus ran 45 yards unassisted for the touchdown -- the longest first reception by an NFL player.

"After that play we just talked about the experience of it briefly the next week," Zaccheaus stated. "Just like, Zaccheaus is like, "That's your first catch?" "Just like, he's like, 'That's your first catch, right?' I'm like 'Yeah. It was a great moment. He still needs to sign my ball. I will eventually get there."

Ryan passed over 50,000 yards in this game, and White was honored at halftime.

Justin Peelle (T-25, 36 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns)

The picture is displayed in the son's bedroom.

Peelle was facing his old team, The Chargers in 2008 and Peelle and the Falcons were in red zone. He ran a corner line down the middle. They had worked together on this play before. Peelle realized that he had a chance when the play was called.

Peelle was the one to catch the touchdown. It was cool at the time. It became memorable later.

Peelle stated, "A few more years later, I was coaching in Philly" and that Bill Musgrave was hired as our quarterback coach. He had that photo. "Coach Mike Smith used to hang photos in the hallway every week, and he had this one.

"So Coach Musgrave came to Philly. I was walking in my office the other day when that picture was there.

Peelle, Atlanta's tight ends coach took it home. It is now a memento of his father's coaching days, and it is long retired.

Brian Finneran (No. 23, 48 catches, 407 yards, four touchdowns)

Ryan had already run the play before Ryan arrived. It was a play that the Falcons knew well. This was a double-dagger play and Finneran, at the tail end his career, was not the first option in an offensive with White Gonzalez Douglas.

He felt great on this play as the Z receiver was moved back from the line of scrimmage.

Finneran stated, "I was going towards the back end line, line it up outside, make it look like an fade route, then break to the middle of the dig and he placed a nice, highball." "I leapt up, and as soon I caught it, the safety came over and hit me hard to the ground. But I held on and scored a touchdown."

Finneran, a radio host now in Atlanta, called Ryan his "ideal quarterback" due to his ability to throw to open receivers, and his understanding of defenses. Finneran was only left with a few years to his name by the time they were playing together, something that he regrets time and again.

Instead, they spent three years together while Ryan was still evolving and not at his peak.

Finneran stated, "I wish that I was younger and had good knees when Matt Ryan was playing with me." "Because he would've been fun to have a profession with."

D.J. Tialavea, T-68; one catch and 1 yard for one touchdown

It was Week 16 in 2016, and Tialavea was about play in an NFL match for the first-ever time. This was the second appearance in his entire career. He was finally active after three years of being on the practice squad.

He was on the Carolina 1-yard line. He was lined up on his left in a package jumbo and fell off the line. He recovered and ran the route to the end zone. Ryan was also scrambling, as was Tialavea.

D.J. D.J. Jason Walle/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Tialavea stated, "I don’t even believe the ball was supposed go to me." "But Matt did an amazing job rolling out, and I was kinda wide open. Now that I reflect on it, I'm not sure I did my assignment correctly.

On the last catch and touchdown of his career as an announcer, he struggled to pronounce his last namesake.

Ryan can't recall much about the play, except for the blurring. But he will never forget what happened afterwards. Tialavea ran towards the goalpost with football in his right and his left hands pointing in the air. He then touched his head and continued pointing at the crowd.

Ryan stated, "He was so excited that he couldn’t stop shouting," Ryan added. It was quite funny to watch.

Kaleb McGary (T68, one catch and minus-3 yards).

McGary doesn’t consider it a catch. It is recorded in the record books. McGary, however, can't.

Ryan went back to pass, and McGary was blocking Arizona's Chandler Jones. Ryan returned to throw, and Jones leapt up in excitement to grab the ball. He made contact. McGary heard a thud, and saw the ball in the air.

McGary stated, "I turn around and it falls in my arms." "I get this 'Oh, s ---' moment. I go down."

He was quick to hit, and even now he doesn’t consider it a catch. McGary stated that every offensive lineman dreams of being a touchdown receiver, rather than how McGary has received his only catch to date.

McGary stated, "I wish that was counted as real catch and done some cool things like gotten back at the line of Scrimmage, broken [a tackle]," McGary added. "That's not the way it happened. It doesn't matter.

He hopes to add another catch one day and joked that he could.

Logan Paulsen (No. 50, nine catches for 91 yards and one touchdown

Ryan has had twelve pass-catchers catch every ball he throws, but Logan Paulsen with nine, has caught more.

Ryan's substitution error caused Paulsen to score from Ryan.

Paulsen was not able to be gotten on a red-zone play against Cincinnati in Week 4. Paulsen was allowed to continue. As it did so often, the defense turned toward Jones. Paulsen began to take a seam route.

Paulsen stated, "Beat the linebacker. I was wide open." "I can remember feeling the ball in the air for a while coming down. I kind of bobbled it, but I was in my end zone so I didn’t have to run and just caught it.

"I don't score touchdowns every single day."

Paulsen scored his first touchdown in 2017 with a 17-yarder. Ryan would complete 422 passes in that year, a record for him. He hasn't likely seen many of them since. Paulsen was not happy with the catch. It was huge.

It was his last touchdown. It was also from a potential Hall of Famer.

Finneran stated that Matt is a great receiver. He is a great thrower and understands every defense. This puts him in a position to help his teammates succeed.

He has done it almost 5,000 times.

This story was contributed by Turron Davenport and John Keim, ESPN reporters.

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