Forget 'Ice,' it's Matty 'Elite' Ryan

Anytime someone calls Atlanta’s Matt Ryan an elite quarterback, it seems to spark debate. So feel free to hit the comments section below or the mailbag.

I’m not sure what the exact definition of an elite quarterback is. But if you simply look at the following numbers (from ESPN Stats & Information and Elias Sports Bureau), I think you have to come to the conclusion that Ryan is elite. At very least he’s walking in elite company.

As we first pointed out last week, Ryan has been winning at an incredible pace in his first three seasons in the league. After Sunday’s victory in Seattle, Ryan’s career record as a starter is 32-12. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only one quarterback has won more games in his first three seasons. The guy’s name is Dan Marino.

For the record, Marino went 33-10 in his first three seasons. That means Ryan can tie Marino’s victory total with a win against New Orleans on Dec. 27. If he does that, Ryan can break the record with a victory against Carolina in the regular-season finale.

Speaking of Ryan and elite names, he threw three touchdown passes Sunday to bring his career total to 63. That ties him for fourth place in NFL history (going back even before the merger), for touchdown passes in the first three years of a career. The guy he's now tied with? Joe Namath. The only quarterbacks with more touchdown passes in their first three seasons are Marino (98), Peyton Manning (85) and Jeff Garcia (74). All right, Garcia might not quite fit with the other names. But remember, he was taking over for Steve Young and a San Francisco offensive machine that still was mostly in place.

One other stat on Ryan: He now has won nine consecutive starts in December and January, and the Falcons are 9-1 overall in games Ryan has started in December and January during his career.