NEW YORK - Matt Ryan is more than the face of the sensational turnaround by the Atlanta Falcons. He also is the best member of a superb rookie crop, earning the Associated Press 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award Tuesday.
The quarterback, from William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia and Boston College, was selected third overall in April's draft and today was a landslide winner in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league.
Ryan became the third quarterback in five years to win the award; before that, no QB ever took the honor.
He joins Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Vince Young (2006) as top rookie quarterbacks.
"I'm certainly flattered," Ryan 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."
Ryan was chosen by Atlanta as the centerpiece of its rebuilding effort following a dismal 2007 that saw quarterback Michael Vick incarcerated for dogfighting and coach Bobby Petrino leave after 13 games for Arkansas. A starter almost from the first snap he took in preseason, Ryan was brilliant in leading the Falcons to the playoffs with an 11-5 mark a year after going 4-12.
"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," Ryan said. "Now that we're in we have a chance like everybody else. Hopefully we can make the most of it."
Ryan ranked 11th in passer rating at 87.7 and had 16 touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions. But it wasn't the numbers as much as his command of the huddle and his cool under pressure that impressed his teammates, opponents - and the voters.
Ryan 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.
The balloting doesn't indicate the outstanding depth of the rookie class on offense. Running backs Steve Slaton of Houston and Conwell-Egan High, Tim Hightower of Arizona, Ray Rice of Baltimore of Rutgers University, 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 the Eagles, Davone Bess of Miami and Donnie Avery of St. Louis.
Another rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco of Baltimore and Audubon High School, 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.
"Obviously the big question was how well Matt would perform as a rookie quarterback," Falcons veteran 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 with the guys on our offense."