- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATLANTA -- If you had walked by the Atlanta Falcons’ media relations office Monday afternoon and heard the quarterback on the speaker phone, you would have thought it was Matt Ryan.
It wasn’t. It was Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.
It’s only fitting that these two guys speak with the same accent that’s prevalent in the Philadelphia area because it’s just one more thing, among many, that links Ryan and Flacco.
When you really look at everything, they’re pretty much the same guy. It’s been that way from the day they were drafted in 2008. In their third seasons, the common bond between the two has grown even stronger.
“We spent a whole lot of time doing due diligence on Joe Flacco because there was probably a good chance we were going to draft a quarterback,’’ Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “Joe has got a very good skill set. I think he’s done an outstanding job for the Ravens. There are a lot of similarities between both players in terms of their size and their skill set and I even think in their makeup. They’re going to be tied together. They’re both the type of quarterback that’s going to play in this league for a long time and be very successful.’’
Ryan and Flacco will have their first regular-season meeting tonight, but their careers have been tied together from the start -- maybe even before they got to the NFL.
They were born nearly four months and 40 miles apart. Ryan grew up in Exton, Pa., and Flacco was reared just across the Delaware River, in Audubon, N.J.
The Falcons did their homework on Flacco before drafting Ryan with the third overall pick. The Ravens did their homework on Ryan and pounced on Flacco in the first round with the 18th pick. Heck, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was even scouting Ryan as far back as high school.
“Yeah, Matt’s a guy that we were involved with, studying him as quarterback,’’ said Harbaugh, an assistant coach with the Eagles from 1998-2007 . “He was kind of a top-rated quarterback coming out. I was always so impressed with him. He’s from Downingtown, Pa., [near Exton] so when I was in Philly, I just followed his career all through high school too, so I just kind of knew a lot about him. He’s a great leader, a tremendous arm, great touch, very accurate, and I think those are things that Joe and he have in common. Obviously, he’s done a great job of winning football games. ”
Flacco has taken Baltimore to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. Ryan took the Falcons to the playoffs as a rookie, but Atlanta went 9-7 and narrowly missed the playoffs last season as Ryan missed two games with a toe injury.
Flacco visited with the Falcons before the draft and was at least a consideration, although Ryan was the consensus top quarterback in that draft.
“They worked me out and they interviewed me for a little bit and it went well, just like all of the other workouts and interviews,’’ Flacco said. “They usually go in there and they try to put a little bit of pressure on you and things like that. For the most part, they’re just trying to get a feel for what kind of personality you have and how good they think you are at football. It went pretty well and I enjoyed it.”
In addition to their other similarities, the statistics for Ryan and Flacco are nearly identical -- over their careers and especially this year.
In his three seasons, Flacco has completed 732 of 1,190 passes (61.5 percent) for 8,501 yards with 47 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and an 85.8 passer rating.
In that same span, Ryan has completed 708 of 1,173 passes (60.4) for 8,305 yards with 51 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and an 85.7 passer rating.
This season, Flacco has 12 touchdown passes, six interceptions,1,917 passing yards and an 88.9 passer rating. Ryan has 13 touchdowns, five interceptions, 1,949 passing yards and a 90.2 passer rating.
Ryan and Flacco didn’t cross paths until the start of the draft process.
“I got to know him pretty well,’’ Ryan said. “I’ve talked to him in the course of the offseasons the last couple of years at different events. He’s a really good guy. He’s had a great start to his career. A lot of success. His record speaks for itself. I’ve been very impressed with what he’s done.’’
When they get together, Ryan and Flacco said they don’t really talk about football. They talk about some common friends in the league, golf and things back in the Philadelphia area. But they also know they have an unspoken common bond that probably will last at least as long as they play.