Sunday afternoon during the 2013 NFL divisional playoffs, fans of the Atlanta Falcons breathed huge sighs of relief, this just hours after fans of the Baltimore Ravens celebrated a win in arguably the greatest game of the year, including the postseason. The most impressive part was the quarterback of each team—both 2008 first-round draft picks—played the best games of their young careers in the most difficult situations.
Matt Ryan‘s Falcons led the Seattle Seahawks 20-0 at halftime and put the game in cruise control to start the second half. That changed when Seattle does what it does best—make a ferocious comeback. The Seahawks rallied and took a tow-point lead with just over two minutes left and that’s when Ryan took over.
The No. 3 overall pick fro 2008 led his team down the field for the game-winning field goal with just seconds left after giving up a 20-point lead. For the past five years, Atlanta always came up short in the playoffs, even at home following a first-round bye. However, Ryan finally got that monkey off his back to set up an epic showdown with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
All of this excitement came a day after Joe Flacco‘s Ravens defied odds twice on the road against Peyton Manning‘s Denver Broncos. Baltimore was out of the game three different times but it was Flacco who brought them back. Granted, the former No. 18 overall pick had some help from his defense and superstar running back Ray Rice, but Flacco made two throws that he absolutely had to make at the end of regulation and then in double overtime.
Although Flacco is the first quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five years in the NFL, he has never carried the Ravens the way he did against the top-seeded Broncos in Denver. Baltimore is now just as much of a Super Bowl contender as any other team left in these playoffs, which is something that couldn’t be said before the Denver game.
It took five years, but it looks like Atlanta and Baltimore are both finally getting the return they expected on their investments in Ryan and Flacco. The craziest thing is both of these guys are still so young with talent all around them, so the Falcons and Ravens will likely be Super Bowl—not just playoff—contenders for a long time to come.