Anyone who’s ever looked for a job always waits for the question they know is coming and they dread it. “What do you see yourself doing five years from now?” Well, Matt Ryan wasn’t asked that particular question but according to recent reports, he has an answer if anyone does want to throw that one at him. He wants to be playing football for the Falcons. He wants to be 40 years old and still suiting up with the number two on his back. Let’s take a quick look at how realistic that goal is.
There have only been 15 quarterbacks in the history of the NFL who has started a game after turning 40-years old. The oldest a starting quarterback has ever been is 44. In 1998, Steve DeBerg started a Week 8 game for the Falcons in New York against the Jets, a 28-3 loss.
In this era of the NFL everyone points to Tom Brady as what can be accomplished by a quarterback who has turned 40. What Brady has accomplished at the ages of 40 and 41 is astounding. Until he piloted the New England Patriots to three consecutive Super Bowl appearances, starting at the age of 39, only Brett Favre had taken a team as far as a conference championship game after turning 40.
Favre started all 16 games as a 40-year old quarterback in 2009 for the Minnesota Vikings. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns while guiding the Vikings to a 12-4 record and an appearance the NFC Conference Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints. He was one, ill-timed cross-body pass, away from a game-winning field goal and a date against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
Before that, only one quarterback had guided his team to at minimum, a .500 record after turning 40. In 1997, at the age of 41, Warren Moon started 14 games and led the Seattle Seahawks to an 8-8 record.
That’s it. Only three quarterbacks in NFL history have found success after the age of 40. Charlie Conerly was the first to try in 1961, Earl Morrall, Johnny Unitas, Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen, Doug Flutie, Vinnie Testaverde and a couple of others have made the attempt and all found that age barrier as the only opponent they couldn’t beat.
Muscle mass can be maintained after 40 with a commitment to working out and a highly regulated diet. What no amount of exercise can help is the nervous system and reflexes. Playing a game at an elite level, where split seconds matter, it doesn’t take much for a pass, thrown with accuracy and timing to a receiver down the seam to become an interception being run back at you.
It’s not a matter of whether Matt Ryan can reach the age of 40 and still be an NFL quarterback. Can he achieve what only Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Warren Moon have in the entire history of the NFL? Be a winning quarterback at and past the age of 40. It sounds like we’ll be getting a chance to find out.