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Holloway: Success started with Vick
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Michael Vick may be the best thing that ever happened to the Atlanta Falcons.

Of all the things that have been written in the year and a half since the former franchise quarterback was arrested, jailed, disgraced in the 2007 dogfighting scandal, that’s one sentence you probably haven’t read.

An explanation is probably in order (spoiler alert: It has to do with Matt Ryan).

In 2001, when the Falcons traded up to make Vick the No. 1 pick in the draft, Chris Chandler was on the last of his already shaky legs as an NFL starter and Doug Johnson was his back up.

Getting a quarterback was a priority.

Everybody remembers that San Diego traded out of the top spot and ended up taking LaDanian Tomlinson with the Falcons’ pick at No. 5, but LT was never on the Falcons’ radar. With Jamal Anderson still on the roster and coming off a 1,000-yard season, the Falcons weren’t going to take a running back that high in the draft.

If Atlanta hadn’t taken Vick in 2001, they’d have ended up with a placeholder under center and mostly likely taken one of the first rounders in 2002. And the 2002 draft was a wasteland when it came to quarterback talent (David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, anybody?).

Which brings us to Matt Schaub, who the Falcons picked in the third round of 2004.

Let’s just say, in this alternate NFL universe, that the Falcons passed on Vick and took Harrington in 2002. After just two years — even if he looked like a bust — it’d be hard to justify drafting another QB as high as the third round. At least with Vick, they had the built-in reasoning that all his freelancing might lead to more injuries and they needed a Plan B better than Johnson, who had just gone 1-7 in 2003 while filling in for Vick.

They’d probably have handled Harrington the way Detroit did, watching four years of something approaching mediocrity before bailing and then getting stuck with one of the Jon Kitnas of the league. In that scenario, drafting a quarterback in 2008 wouldn’t have been a first-round priority.

To get Ryan, they needed Vick.

You might even say Vick was, ahem, a blessing.

But then again you might not.

The controversy brought on by his bad deeds was a disaster for the franchise to endure. Officials throughout the league expressed pity for the predicament it left the Falcons in, but behind closed front office doors, the team was a laughing stock. They got burned by a coach, snubbed by would-be general managers, and had to settle for first-timers Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith.

See how that turned out?

Both were honored earlier this week by The Sporting News as the NFL Executive and Coach of the Year.

Still, it’s the other honoree at the banquet that cinches the Vick fiasco as windfall for the Falcons.

Ryan was also in attendance Tuesday morning, accepting his Rookie of the Year award. When he met with reporters a few hours later, his smile was as bright as the Falcons’ future.

Since he showed up in Flowery Branch, Ryan has been unflappable and utterly likable, even to the skeptical among us.

Even as an wide-eyed rookie, he said all right things and — more importantly — he did them, too. Last year he signed autographs at training camp until team officials pulled him away.

Simply put, he came as advertised: a film room junkie, a quick study, a good teammate. And he was even better when he got on the field.

All those traits were on display again this week, but now Ryan’s got the demeanor of veteran: clearly comfortable in his elected position as team captain, still humble after a breakout rookie year, and focused on improving in 2009, even as the media seemed more interested in his golf game.

"For me, my job and my responsibility is to come in here and try to help this team win. I’ve got to really tailor everything I do around that — besides getting out and playing at Augusta," he said, drawing a big laugh.

In the 12-minute session, Ryan seemed to mention improvement, in some form or another, in every other sentence.

"Really I’ve been itching to get back here and start preparing for next season," Ryan said after chatting about his offseason golf escapades. "I think that we did a lot of things really well last year, but losing in the playoffs, that serves as great motivation."

Improving on last year’s 11-5 record won’t be easy. Even if Ryan improves on his individual numbers, which is certainly feasible, the NFL has a way of pulling the high-flying back to earth.

But thanks to timing that couldn’t have been planned and the most fortuitous turn of bad luck in NFL history, the Falcons are in better hands than they could have dreamed possible thanks to Vick — a quarterback who energized the team upon his arrival but impacted it most with his departure.

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