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Matt Ryan's legacy on line versus fellow MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Matt Ryan is winning “awards season” so far.

Ryan was selected Wednesday as the Pro Football Writers Association’s NFL MVP -- a first in Atlanta Falcons history -- as well as Offensive Player of the Year.

Earlier this month, Ryan beat out Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as the Associated Press’ first-team All-Pro quarterback. Perhaps Ryan’s first AP MVP award will soon follow.

But neither Ryan nor Rodgers spoke much about the MVP award on Wednesday, since they’re focused on a more pressing matter: their matchup on the field Sunday, when the Falcons host the Green Bay Packers with a trip to Super Bowl LI on the line.

“I don’t specifically have to go out on the field and defend Aaron, which is a good thing for us,” Ryan said Wednesday. “But it’s fun. I’ve played against him a number of times, and I’ve gotten to know him throughout the years. He’s a good friend. And I respect him so much, because he’s such a great competitor. ... He’s had an unbelievable year.

“But for me, once we get into it, it’s about trying to do the best we can against their defense and focus in on how well we can play. And at the end of the day, that’s where my focus will be on Sunday.”

Ryan did allow himself to have a little fun Wednesday with the inevitable “legacy” question. When a reporter said Ryan was the only QB left in the NFL’s final four who hasn’t won a Super Bowl ring yet, Ryan interrupted by chuckling and repeating the word “yet.”

That drew some laughs throughout the overstuffed media room at Falcons headquarters.

But once the room quieted, Ryan quickly moved on to speak about how he ultimately will be measured alongside greats such as Rodgers. Asked how much a Super Bowl appearance would factor in, he said, “I don’t know. It’s not really for me to decide. I don’t think about it all that much.”

Ryan has 85 regular-season wins in nine NFL seasons but only two playoff wins.

“I think one thing I’ve learned throughout my career is that if you sit there and you’re worrying about all these things that don’t make a difference for this week, your focus is not where it should be,” Ryan said. “Would it be nice to do all of those things that you mentioned? Absolutely. But it’s not gonna help us Sunday. And at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is trying to focus all my energy and my mental preparation toward what’s gonna have us play our best Sunday.

“So I don’t think about those things all that often, and certainly not this time of year.”

Whether or not he dwells on his legacy, there is little doubt Ryan wants to exploit this opportunity to reach his first Super Bowl.

The Falcons also hosted the NFC Championship Game four years ago, but they lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Atlanta didn’t win another playoff game until last week.

Ryan, 31, said what he took away most from that conference title game experience was that “those opportunities are hard to come by, and you want to play your best when you have the opportunity.”

That hasn’t been a problem this year for Ryan, who has been tearing it up from September through January.

Ryan posted some all-time great numbers throughout the regular season, with career highs of 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns vs. only seven interceptions. His passer rating of 117.1 ranks fifth in NFL history, and he set an NFL record by throwing TD passes to 13 players.

He didn’t slow down one bit in last week's playoff game, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns against the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense.

Ryan reiterated Wednesday that he believes he is playing the best football of his career. And Falcons coach Dan Quinn once again praised Ryan for how much commitment he put in to improving his game -- going back to last February and never relenting. Quinn compared it to a “New Year’s resolution.”

Not that Ryan has been shabby throughout his nine-year career.

His 85 regular-season wins since 2008 are the third most in the NFL over that span -- just five behind the total of Rodgers, who became Green Bay’s starter in 2008.

But Rodgers has seven more playoff victories and one more Super Bowl win. That’s where QBs are ultimately judged. And Ryan hasn’t reached that level ... yet.

“Matt’s a fantastic player,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “He’s had a great year and has just been really consistent the entire season -- consistently at a high level, which is tough to do.

“You know, I’ve gotten to know him a little bit over the years, mostly playing golf with him in Tahoe. And I’ve always enjoyed our conversations and getting to spend time with him. I just have an enormous amount of respect for him and the way he goes about his business. Him and I and [Joe] Flacco all started our first year in 2008, so I’ve always followed those guys closely. And I’ve always been impressed with Matt, ever since the ’08 game, where he came into Lambeau and was running the no-huddle offense as a rookie and was going up and down the field on us.

“So he’s a talented guy, and it’s fun to see him have so much success this year, because he’s one of the good ones.”