The quarterback 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 Tuesday.
And he did it in a year loaded with outstanding offensive rookie performances.
"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."
What the Falcons did was go 11-5 and make the playoffs after a dismal 2007 that saw Vick incarcerated on a dogfighting conviction and Petrino leave after 13 games to go coach Arkansas. Ryan was chosen third overall out of Boston College to be the cornerstone of Atlanta's rebuilding effort.
The Falcons can take pride in the foundation he has laid.
"The season seems like a blur, without question," Ryan said. "It seems like it's gone by so fast. I just really tried to take it 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.
He not only overwhelmingly impressed the voters, but his opponents.
"I'm not trying to compare anybody to Peyton Manning," Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said, "but for somebody to do that that early in their career and have that much maturity and that much control of the offense, and be able to dictate to us the things that they wanted to do, I was impressed with him. And frustrated and ticked off at the same time."
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 made him -- and the Falcons -- winners.
"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."
The balloting doesn't indicate the outstanding depth of the rookie class on offense. Running backs Steve Slaton of Houston, Tim Hightower of Arizona, Ray Rice of Baltimore, 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 Philadelphia, Davone Bess of Miami and Donnie Avery of St. Louis.
Another rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco of Baltimore, helped lead his team into the playoffs.
And Ryan was the cream.