Monday Musings: The reason behind Matt Ryan's turnaround and why Falcons are 3-1

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is on pace to throw for 5,892 yards and 44 touchdown passes.

Not bad for a guy some fools think can't play the position at a high level.

After an unreal performance Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, where Ryan threw for 503 yards and four touchdown passes, with 300 of those yards and one score going to receiver Julio Jones, Ryan has emerged as an early MVP candidate. The Falcons are 3-1 after beating Carolina 48-33 at the Georgia Dome.

This Ryan start comes after a season when some were foolishly questioning whether he was a franchise passer.

Ryan has always been a quarterback fans love to pick apart for some reason, yet in 2015 he brought a lot of the heat on himself. He struggled in the first season running Kyle Shanahan's offense, throwing 16 picks and 21 touchdown passes. He was seemingly miscast in the system.

How miscast?

For the first time in his career, Ryan had to tape his ankles in practice because of all the bootlegs and rollouts. That's not who Ryan is as a player -- or should be. He functions best when in the pocket.

For that reason, I ripped Shanahan last season.

This season, he deserves praise. He has decided to cater his offense to Ryan, rather than the other way around.

The result is the highest-scoring offense in the league and a quarterback who is playing with as much confidence as any in the league. It helps that he has Jones, who is in the conversation as the league's best receiver.

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Matt Ryan shredded the Panthers' defense, passing for a team-record 503 yards and four touchdowns. USATSI

Jones had catches of 32, 43, 53 and 75 yards against the Panthers, the last a catch-and-run for a touchdown to seal the game. He caught a slant inside, took off and raced to the end zone to give him 300 for the game, a Falcons record. The Panthers foolishly tried to single-cover Jones, who ate their secondary alive.

Ryan did throw a pick-six on a poorly designed inside screen, but aside from that he was flawless.

The Falcons are off to a surprising start, but Ryan and Jones have been rolling up big numbers for years. Now comes the tough part and more proving ground for Ryan, who always seems to be facing the scrutiny.

The Falcons' next two games are at Denver and at Seattle, arguably the two best defenses in the league. Facing those teams at home can be tough enough, but it can be brutal on the road.

The Falcons have to hope for a split in those games. In division where all the other teams are 1-3, they are the early favorites to win it.

The aerial show is a fun to watch, and the record-breaking duo just might get this team to the playoffs.

More musings from around the NFL:

Seattle Seahawks

Do I think Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is elite? No. Do I think he's great? No. Is he really good? You bet.

Was he great Sunday? Damn right.

Wilson, who was playing on a bad ankle and knee, which limited his mobility, was outstanding from the pocket to lead the Seahawks to a 27-17 victory over the New York Jets.

Wilson was 10 of 11 for 191 yards and two scores in the first half, hitting plenty of impressive throws from the pocket. He finished 23 of 32 for 309 yards and three touchdown passes.

When I criticized Wilson in the past, it was mainly because I didn't think he was advanced enough in the pocket. But in the past year, dating back to midway through last season, Wilson has been really good in the pocket. He goes through his progressions faster and better, which is what he had to do to develop.

You can't rely on your legs forever.

So for all those out there who say I will never give Wilson credit here goes: That was a great game by a ... damn good quarterback. After the game, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll took some shots at those who dare question Wilson's ability inside the pocket.

I did. I have. I will.

And, in the end, I just might be wrong.

I was on Sunday, that much is certain.

Arizona Cardinals

What's wrong with the Arizona Cardinals? At 1-3, they have to be considered one of the biggest disappointments in the league so far. They just haven't looked good in losing their last two, including a home loss to the Rams on Sunday.

Carson Palmer, who left the Rams game with a concussion, hasn't clicked with his deep balls this season and the defense has seemingly been a tick off -- although it wasn't the reason for the loss Sunday.

Palmer threw a bad end-zone interception and the Cardinals just couldn't score touchdowns, turning it over five times. That's a formula for losing.

A year ago, everybody was raving about Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, and rightfully so. But Arians will face a ton of heat for this start, and he deserves it. This team had a Super Bowl look a month ago, but now has to scramble to get it going, starting Thursday night at San Francisco.

They can't afford many more losses if they are to be a playoff team.

Indianapolis Colts

There will be plenty of fingers being pointed at Andrew Luck this week as the Colts lost to the Jaguars to fall to 1-3. And while Luck hasn't played great, it's pretty hard to play quarterback with a bad defense and no offensive line.

Luck struggled for the first two-plus quarters against the Jaguars, but did pick it up in the final part of the game to rally the Colts.

Luck is completing 62 percent of his passes, has eight touchdown passes and three picks with a passer rating of 91.1. That's far from awful, but he can't carry this entire team on his back.

The roster is limited. Injuries have hurt, but what about the pass rush? They have problems there, even if they did get three sacks against the Jaguars.

The Colts should be thankful they are in the bad AFC South. They are not dead yet, but it's starting to get concerning.

Buffalo Bills

After the first two weeks, it looked like Rex Ryan was on his way to the firing line. Not so fast. His Bills have defeated the Cardinals and the Patriots in the past two weeks, which evens their record to 2-2 on the season.

Now they did get the Patriots with a third-team passer in Jacoby Brissett, but they still dominated New England in winning 16-0. You know Ryan loved shutting out a Belichick team.

Now comes a real challenge for Ryan: Carrying it over on the road next week at Los Angeles against the Rams. That's a long trip off an emotional victory. Be careful, Buffalo. Ryan's teams are traditionally up and down emotionally, and a down would be losing to the Rams.

New York Jets

Is it time for the Jets to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick? He's thrown nine picks in the past two games. What's to lose? Can Geno Smith be any worse? He threw three picks in the loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, all in the second half. That one-year, $12-million deal the Jets gave him doesn't look too good now, does it?

Cleveland Browns

The Browns may be 0-4, but at least they show up and fight every week. That's a tribute to coach Hue Jackson. That's his persona, a fighter.

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers built their defense to get edge pressure in their four-man rush. But after they both went without sacks again Sunday, edge rushers Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy still don't have a sack. That shows up in coverage issues on the back end. The Panthers have to get more production from those two.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Some will say the Jaguars beating the Colts saved coach Gus Bradley's job. But that isn't the case. He wasn't going anywhere. The Jaguars intend to keep him throughout the season -- no matter what.

Houston Texans

Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler can look so good sometimes, but he can also look really bad. His two picks against the Titans were awful plays where he had no business throwing the football. But he did make a lot of plays, including throwing two touchdown passes. I think he's going to be a maddening quarterback at times for the Texans.

Detroit Lions

Is Lions coach Jim Caldwell back on the hot seat? The Lions lost for the third straight time and fell to 1-3. New GM Bob Quinn didn't hire Caldwell. He inherited him. So a change is definitely possible if they don't turn it around.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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