Falcons vs. Panthers
When: 4:15 p.m. Sunday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV, radio: FOX (WAGA-5); 550-AM, 92.9 FM
Web site: www.atlantafalcons.com
It didn’t matter that Ryan was a rookie fresh out of Boston College, and that rookie quarterbacks often need a period of adjustment to the NFL.
"It became obvious to us, and to our football team, that after two preseason games Matt was the best quarterback," said Atlanta coach Mike Smith.
Ryan, the No.3 overall pick in the draft, is having a remarkable rookie season, and is a major reason why the Falcons are 6-4 as they prepare to play host to Carolina on Sunday.
Without him, Atlanta was 3-7 at this point last season.
"Matt, through the first 10 games, has played very efficiently for a rookie," Smith said.
"Any rookie in this league, regardless of their position, is going to have some ups and downs. I think Matt has had more ups than downs, but when he’s had things not go his way or our way, we’ve learned from them."
Ryan has the 13th-best passer rating in the league so far (87.8). He’s completed 59.7 percent of his passes (169 of 283) for 2,159 yards, with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.
And he continues to improve; he was the NFC’s rookie of the month for October.
In his past three games, he’s completed 53 of 78 passes (67.9 percent), with four touchdowns and one interception. But the most amazing statistic is the Falcons’ 6-4 record.
"Look at Peyton Manning," said Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. "He’s going to go down as one of the best ever. The Colts went 3-13 his rookie year. You can look that up. So it’s tough. It doesn’t happen often."
Ryan really didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in Atlanta.
"I think it’s tough to have any expectations because you haven’t done it before and haven’t been through the grind of the season," he said.
"I think I’ve done a pretty good job. I still feel like I have a long way to go and a lot of improving to do."
Ryan’s solid start hasn’t surprised Carolina coach John Fox, who said the Panthers were high on him before the draft.
"I think he’s gotten more comfortable in the offense," Fox said.
"They ask him to do a lot as far as run, pass, audibles and those kinds of things. He looks to be operating better. He was an impressive guy (coming out of college). He has a lot of the intangibles I think that sometimes people miss the boat on."
Ryan’s job has been made easier by a sturdy offensive line (12 sacks allowed) and a strong running game built around Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood that contributes an average of 153.4 rushing yards.
Atlanta’s first game against Carolina wasn’t pretty; the Falcons lost 24-9 Sept.28 in Charlotte.
"I thought they out-executed us that day," Ryan said.
The biggest step for Ryan, according to Smith, came in the Falcons’ second game, at Tampa Bay. Ryan opened with nine incompletions, including two interceptions. But, he battled back in the second half.
"Even though we did not get the outcome we were looking for, he hung in there and moved the ball down the field very efficiently," Smith said.
"I think that really showed the type of player that Matt (is).
"We certainly hope that he’s going to be around here for a long time."