Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
On TV: NBC
FLOWERY BRANCH — So, Matt Ryan, how does it feel to have an almost perfectly symmetrical face?
“I’m not sure,” the Falcons’ quarterback said Tuesday. “I have no idea what that is, but my teammates kind of brought it to my attention, so I’ve heard about it from a number of guys.”
For all the honors Ryan received as a rookie last year, none is less tangible than the results of a study published last week by The Wall Street Journal.
It seems Ryan’s face, at 99.8 percent, is the most symmetrical in the NFL. According to results of a study between Southern Utah University and Ursinus (Pa.) College, Ryan is the league’s most handsome leader simply because his face has traits that show “a strong correlation to a person’s perceived attractiveness.”
“I keep telling my teammates it’s from a credible source,” Ryan said of the persistent teasing he’s heard in the locker room. “So it’s all good.”
Ryan’s first brush as a big-time celebrity came during the draft 17 months ago. A couple of months ago, he was the “best breakthrough athlete” at ESPN’s annual award ceremony.
Success on the field, however, backed up the Falcons’ decision to pick him No. 3 overall; Ryan was named the league’s offensive rookie of the year.
Atlanta, coming off a 4-12 season that included quarterback Michael Vick’s imprisonment and coach Bobby Petrino’s resignation, was hardly expected to compete in the NFC South. Yet the Falcons won 11 games and earned a wild-card playoff spot as Ryan’s star continued to rise.
The NFL’s offensive rookie of the year, already armed by the Falcons with a six-year, $72 million contract, signed an endorsement deal with AirTran and settled in his new estate home at Sugarloaf Country Club about 30 minutes south of team headquarters.
He likes golf, hunting, fishing and video games, but prefers keeping matters like girlfriends and other personal relationships private.
That approach was the opposite taken by Vick, the Falcons’ previous franchise cornerstone whose dogfighting scandal created national public outrage.
Ryan, a former Boston College standout who grew up in suburban Philadelphia and graduated from William Penn Charter School, enjoys a lifestyle that’s luxurious yet tastefully restrained.
He doesn’t know exactly how New England’s Tom Brady or Dallas’ Tony Romo manage their quarterback careers while dating models and dodging the paparazzi, but Ryan sounds as if he prefers a lower profile.
“If you do let yourself get caught up in that, it is very easy to lose focus on what it takes to kind of get to those things,” he said. “For me, my family does a good job of keeping me in check, but even though were a lot of successful things and lot of cool things and great experiences, you know, I want more. And as a team, I think everybody wants more.”
When Atlanta hosts Baltimore in the final exhibition for both teams on Thursday, Ryan might play a couple of series — or might not take a snap. Coach Mike Smith and his staff had yet to decide following practice Tuesday, although Ryan wasn’t terribly concerned.
The fourth preseason game for all NFL teams routinely involves mostly reserves.
Ryan’s focus instead is on leading the Falcons, who lost their only Super Bowl appearance to close the 1998 season, deep into the playoffs. Last year, they didn’t make it past the first round, losing 30-24 at Arizona.
Atlanta receiver Roddy White thinks the best is yet to come for Ryan, who reads coverages quickly and usually makes the right decision after the ball is snapped.
Passes came out of the pocket fast enough last season that Ryan was sacked just 17 times, 30 fewer than the Falcons allowed in 2007. He ran no-huddle formations with ease, ranked No. 3 in net passing yards per attempt and helped Atlanta finish the season ranked sixth in third-down efficiency.
It was no coincidence that White had a career-best season and was named to the Pro Bowl.
“Yeah, man, everything he does is off anticipation,” White said. “He’s a great defensive reader guy, man. He reads it and he knows where to go with the ball, and it’s on time, man.”
Working with Ryan on pressure situations, White led the NFL in third-down catches.
“Running a route with Matt, the ball is always in a place that’s catchable, and if you’re one yard short of the first down, it’s always in a place where you can get upfield and get that first down,” White said. “He’s improved so much from year one to year two, man, that he’s going to be great.”
Ryan seems unwilling to take such forecasts for granted.
It’s all talk to him, even if he does sport a face that’s nearly perfectly symmetrical.
“That’s really the motivation to not get caught up in all that stuff because when you think about it, we really haven’t accomplished anything,” Ryan said. “We got to the playoffs, which is a great thing, but our expectations for ourselves are bigger than that.”