The San Francisco 49ers are the defending NFC champions and led 20-10 over the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. However, their offense, led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, stalled out and the defense could no longer contain Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense. The Chiefs offense took the lead 24-20 with about two minutes to go. Garoppolo would proceed to badly overthrow Emmanuel Sanders on a go-ahead touchdown pass and turned the ball over on downs the next play. Then, after the Chiefs scored again, Garoppolo was picked off by Kendall Fuller to seal the win for the Chiefs.
The 49ers lost 31-20 but came into 2020 with a lot of optimism. They retained most of their corp and set out to defend their NFC title. After a Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, injuries ravaged the team as Garoppolo suffered an ankle injury, running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman suffered knee injuries, and defensive ends Solomon Thomas and Nick Bosa suffered season-ending injuries.
The 49ers just dropped to 2-2 after losing at home on Sunday Night Football to the Philadelphia Eagles 25-20, a game in which backup QB Nick Mullens was benched for third string QB CJ Beathard.
After setting this up, let me present this question: if Atlanta Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan was the QB for the 49ers last season and the start of this season, would the 49ers be the defending Super Bowl champions and be sitting at 2-2 currently?
I believe that answer is yes.
Ryan has been one of the best QBs of this generation, despite not winning a Super Bowl title. He has only missed three games in his entire career and has thrown at least 4,000 yards in every season starting in 2011. He is 109-84 as a starter with 328 career touchdown passes. In 2016 under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, he won MVP with an incredible 4,944 passing yards with 38 touchdown passes along with 9.3 yards per pass attempt.
The knock against Ryan has been his ability to hold leads and his inability to consistently deliver in the clutch. Aside from the obvious 28-3 blown lead in Super Bowl LI, Ryan failed to score on four late goal-to-go situations at Philadelphia in the 2017 divisional playoff round and lost 15-10. There is also the blown 17-0 lead in the 2012 NFC Championship game against the 49ers where they lost 28-24.
However, the Falcons’ coaching staff has been full of ineptitude under Ryan with questionable play calling and defensive collapses. For example, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s play-calling at Philly was to blame more than Ryan’s failure.
The 49ers’ defense is better than any defense Ryan got in his tenure with the Falcons as well as the running game. For nearly his entire career with the Falcons, Ryan has carried the offense to success. Teams with a pass-heavy offense usually have trouble holding leads more than run-heavy teams. The pressure would have been less on Ryan to deliver last season with the 49ers and this season, the 49ers would not be struggling with their QB situation.
Here is the kicker. Ryan had his best season under Shanahan, who is the current head coach of the 49ers. Ryan would continue to excel on under Shanahan with their running game and superstar tight end George Kittle to throw to. I believe Ryan would have led the 49ers to the championship last season and would break his reputation for being a choker. While Shanahan blew a lead in the fourth-quarter twice in the last four Super Bowls, Ryan would have given the 49ers a bigger lead against the Chiefs and more likely would have delivered in the clutch than Garoppolo.
Ryan needs to leave the Falcons with their constant history of choking. This season, the Falcons are 0-4 after blowing 19-and 16-point leads to the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. The Falcons let the ball roll 10 yards on the onside kick attempt from the Cowboys, allowing Dallas to jump on the onside kick and win the game 40-39. That isn’t on Ryan and the defense has been terrible, being second worst in total defense, pass defense and points allowed per game.
The core of the last few years cannot get it done and head coach Dan Quinn needs to be fired. The Falcons need to blow it up and start anew. Ryan is heading toward the end of his prime and should not be subjected to a rebuilding project in Atlanta or a franchise content with mediocrity. With everything Ryan has given, he deserves a chance to compete with a real team.
Here is my proposal. The Falcons should trade Ryan to the 49ers either this season or in the offseason for draft picks, get a top pick and try to draft either Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields. From there, the Falcons can rebuild roster and move forward into the future.
Then, Ryan can play out his final days competing for Super Bowls with the 49ers and try to redeem himself and Shanahan for the 28-3 disaster.
It makes sense for both teams and could lead to one of the greatest redemption stories in sports.