Matt Ryan found a quick way to make Falcons fans forget Michael Vick, Bobby Petrino and all the ugliness of Atlanta football.
The quarterback, who starred at Penn Charter High, 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 rookies, including Houston running back Steve Slaton, who played at Conwell-Egan High, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, of Audubon (N.J.) High and the University of Delaware, and Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
"I'm certainly flattered," said Ryan. "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."
What the Falcons did was go 11-5 and make the playoffs after a dismal 2007 that saw Vick incarcerated for dogfighting and Petrino leave after 13 games to go coach Arkansas.
"The season seems like a blur, without question," said Ryan, who was chosen third overall out of Boston College. "It seems like'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."
Few quarterbacks make so much out of their first NFL seasons. Since 1957, when the award was first given, only three quarterbacks 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 who cover the league. 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. *