Rookie award to Ryan

MATT RYANHelped turn around Falcons MATT RYANHelped turn around Falcons (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
By Barry Wilner
Associated Press / December 31, 2008
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NEW YORK - Matt Ryan found a quick way to make Falcons fans forget Michael Vick, Bobby Petrino, and all the ugliness of Atlanta football.

The quarterback led a sensational turnaround from laughingstock franchise to Super Bowl contender, for which Ryan earned The Associated Press 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award yesterday.

And he did it in a year loaded with outstanding offensive rookie performances.

"I'm certainly flattered," the former Boston College star said. "There's a number of guys who had great rookie seasons this year, so to even be mentioned in that light is nice. It's certainly a great honor, and I think it speaks to what we did as a team this year."

The Falcons went 11-5 and made the playoffs after a dismal 2007 in which Vick was incarcerated for dogfighting and Petrino left after 13 games to go coach Arkansas. Ryan was chosen third overall out of BC to be the cornerstone of Atlanta's rebuilding.

"The season seems like a blur," Ryan said. "It seems like it's gone by so fast. I just really tried to take in stride and not get caught up in all the things that happened this year.

"I think that's the biggest thing. We had success and we were able to get a wild-card spot, so that was the huge thing for us this year. Now that we're in we have a chance like everybody else. Hopefully we can make the most of it."

Since 1957, when the award was first given, only three QBs have won it, all recently: Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Tennessee's Vince Young in 2006, and Ryan.

Ryan was a landslide winner in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters. He collected 44 votes, far in front of Titans running back Chris Johnson with three. Broncos tackle Ryan Clady had two and Bears running back Matt Forte got one.

"I'm not trying to compare anybody to Peyton Manning," Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said, "but for somebody to do that that early in their career and have that much maturity and that much control of the offense, and be able to dictate to us the things that they wanted to do, I was impressed with him."

Ryan ranked 11th in passer rating at 87.7 and had 16 touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions. But it was his command of the huddle and his cool under pressure that made him - and the Falcons - winners.

"Obviously the big question was how well Matt would perform as a rookie quarterback," veteran Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking said. "We knew there'd be bumps in the road, but it's unbelievable what he's done in such a short period of time."

The balloting doesn't indicate the outstanding depth of the rookie class on offense. Running backs Steve Slaton of Houston, Tim Hightower of Arizona, Ray Rice of Baltimore, Jonathan Stewart of Carolina, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice of Dallas, Peyton Hillis of Denver, Kevin Smith of Detroit, and Jamaal Charles of Kansas City all were contributors. So were wide receivers Eddie Royal of Denver, DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia, Davone Bess of Miami, and Donnie Avery of St. Louis.

Another rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco of Baltimore, helped lead his team into the playoffs. Add in tight ends John Carlson of Seattle and Dustin Keller of the Jets and the strength of the first-year crop is impressive.

And Ryan was the cream.

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