Jake Matthews’ wild ride to — and from — Charlotte

The Falcons' left tackle traveled to Atlanta and back on Thursday to attend the birth of his child and then play against the Panthers

Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews watches during warm ups before an NFL football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

CHARLOTTE — Jake Matthews began his day in Charlotte. He finished his day in Charlotte. The 17 hours in between are the stuff legends are made of.

Matthews is the starting left tackle for the Atlanta Falcons, and he has been since he entered the league in 2014. He missed the Week 2 game of his rookie season and since then, he’s had perfect attendance — 136 straight regular season games and five games in the playoffs. He battled ankle and foot problems in 2014 and hurt his knee in 2020, but he showed up for work week in and week out.

Then his wife, Meggi, got pregnant.

Matthews is a second-generation NFL player. His father, Bruce — who was born in Raleigh — is an NFL Hall of Famer, and both of his brothers played in the league. His grandfather Clay, uncle Clay Jr. and cousin Clay III all played in the league.

In addition to NFL experience, all the Matthews men have something else in common: Everyone with NFL dads was born in the offseason.

“That was the plan, initially,” Matthews said. “It didn’t work. So you know, we knew when she told me back in March she was pregnant, I was like, ‘All right, well, this is gonna be the middle of the season. Let’s start planning.’”

At first, the timing seemed to be perfect. The Falcons were scheduled to play the week closest to her due date in Carolina on Thursday night. That meant a few extra days off before preparing for the next game, and, just as importantly, it left the weekend open.

“She was scheduled to be induced on Sunday,” he said.

Still, things can go awry as the big day approaches, and Jake and Meggi had to discuss contingency plans if their son decided to come on game day.

“We talked about it,” he said. “They weren’t fun conversations. ‘Are you going to choose the game over me?’”

Matthews traveled with the team to Charlotte and talked to Meggi on Wednesday night.

“So, I talked to her (on the phone) and said good night and went to bed, and she said something didn’t feel right,” Matthews said, as parents everywhere nod knowingly. “She thought she might have been sick. So I was like, ‘Oh well, maybe we’ll have to reschedule Sunday. Just hang in there. Let me play this game and I’ll be back Friday.’”

Thursday morning, the hotel phone in his room rang.

“My phone doesn’t wake me up because I have it on silent,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, the hotel phone is ringing. I was like, ‘Who’s calling on the hotel phone?’ That doesn’t happen. I haven’t had a wake-up call since college. So I knew something was wrong. I checked my phone and I had 10 missed calls. She had been in labor and at the hospital for a couple hours. She got there about 5 a.m.”

It was now 7 a.m.. Kickoff was 13 hours away. Meggi was 245 miles away.

“I was just scrambling,” he said, “trying to make a decision on what to do. Are we going to go to the airport and catch a commercial flight or even — I was willing to charter a private plane, but nothing was available on short notice.”

A team employee offered their rental car.

“It was just that snap decision,” he said. “Are we driving or not? And I was like, ‘Screw it, let’s go.’”

The team employee, who Matthews would only identify as “a member of the security staff,” did the driving while Matthews lay in the back seat trying to go through his game day routine.

“I laid down and tried to hydrate and get food,” he said. “It was a turnaround. I wasn’t on my routine.”

Plenty of birth stories involve wild drives to the hospital. Most of them don’t start in Charlotte and end in Atlanta — a distance Matthews covered in three hours.

“We may have been going above the speed,” he said. “We left the hotel at 9:30 and made it to her about 12:30. We didn’t stop. Needless to say, I had to use the restroom.”

Matthews made it before the baby was born, with an assist from the doctors. While Falcons security was putting pedal to metal, back in Atlanta, they were trying to hit the brakes.

“They actually had to do some things to slow the process down for me to get there,” he said. “Once I got there, they broke her water.”

And at that point, Meggi was the one on the clock.

Team owner Arthur Blank offered to fly Matthews back to Charlotte with him on his private plane in order to get back by game time, but first, the youngest Matthews had to cooperate with the timeline.

“A few times, I was looking at the wall and the clock, and she kind of snapped at me, ‘Get your head back in!’” he said.

As you’d expect from an NFL family, the new baby had excellent clock management.

“It really was amazing,” Matthews said. “It was like right when it was getting close to crunch time. Everyone was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make a decision. What’s gonna happen here?’ And then he came. It was like perfect timing.”

Beckett Thomas Matthews entered the world at 3:15 p.m. We’ll let proud papa tell the rest:

“Thomas is my middle name too. We really liked the name Beckett. We picked it, jeez, we picked it like six months into dating each other, before we were even engaged or married. We were like, ‘This is what we’re going to name our first son.’ So we’ve known that name for years. And then he actually was almost four weeks early, but he was right at six pounds. I can’t remember his length, but his length was in like the 95th percentile. He was very long. He was a little early, but we’ll beef him up.”

Then the new parents got to spend time with their baby, but not much.

“I actually got to help deliver him,” Matthews said. “It was incredible, very emotional. Right when he came out, my wife took him for like five minutes, and then I held him for like 15.”

Then it was time to go to work.

“He was born at 3:15, and I left to get on Mr. Blank’s plane at 3:30. We took a few pictures with him, and I was out. It was whirlwind, man.”

Matthews spent much of the flight on the phone, informing family members of the news and, of course, attending pregame position meetings.

“They FaceTimed me at the beginning of the meeting, and I cracked a couple of jokes,” he said. “I told our backups not to worry, I’d be back.”

Matthews arrived at Bank of America Stadium about an hour before kickoff, and the team tweeted video of him running into the locker room.

“I just wanted time to get dressed and warm up,” he said. “I was petrified to miss the start of the game.”

Now Matthews heads back to Atlanta and will get to spend time with Meggi and Beckett, just not tonight.

“She cut me some slack and said I could go home and get a few hours,” he said, “but I’ll be there early in the morning. She’ll probably hand him off to me and it’ll be my turn. She’s got no sympathy for me having a game today.”

It seems obvious that Beckett will hear the story of this day every birthday for years to come.

“My wife has been joking with me this whole pregnancy,” he said. “Saying, ‘I have a feeling he’s gonna kind of put you to the test and show up on a game or something,’ and she was spot on. Man, it was incredible just to hold my firstborn son and see how amazing she did and then, obviously, making it back here.”