The Iceman Cometh: How Matt Ryan Has Brought Back Hope To Atlanta

Michael JCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2008

To say Matt Ryan had his work cut out for him when he was drafted third overall by the Atlanta Falcons in April would be quite the understatement.

Thanks to the Michael Vick Experience and Bobby Petrino's blink-and-you-missed-it stint as head coach, the Falcons had become the punching bag for the entire NFL.

The Falcons were entering this 2008 season with a rookie quarterback who threw the second most interceptions amongst collegiate quarterbacks in 2007, a rookie head coach, and the memories of broken dreams at the hands of the former face of the franchise.

Sports Illustrated's senior writer Paul Zimmerman predicted a 2-14 record for the Falcons before the season started and most did not take exception. The Atlanta Falcons were supposed to be worse than the Bengals, the Rams, and even the Detroit Lions this season.

So what happened? Why are the Atlanta Falcons 8-4 and banging on the door for January football this season?
One of the most polarizing figures in the NFL ever since he was drafted was Virginia Tech graduate Michael Vick.

Vick was, at times, both overrated and underrated as a player. While his accuracy has always been considered below average amongst NFL quarterbacks, he made up for his shortcomings with his ability to improvise and use his legs to make plays.

Three of the four seasons in which Vick started at least 15 games, he was elected to the Pro Bowl. His career record as a starting quarterback stands at 38-28-1 and he made the NFC Championship Game in 2004.

While Vick was a star on the field, off the field he could not help but find himself in trouble.

In March of 2005, the name Ron Mexico became familiar to the world after news broke of Vick using the pseudonym to receive treatment for genital herpes, a disease he did not share with one of his sexual partners that would later file a civil lawsuit.

Vick also drew heat for flipping off fans during a November 2006 loss. However, the largest blemish on Vick's record would come thanks to his involvement with the Bad Newz Kennels.

The rest, they say, is history. He currently remains imprisoned.
When Bobby Petrino signed a 10-year, $25.6 million contract to remain the head coach of the University of Louisville Cardinals on July 13, 2006, few thought he would gain the notoriety he has today.

Petrino would later turn his back on Louisville in January of 2007 when he signed a five-year, $24 million contract to become the new head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, replacing the fired Jim Mora, Jr.

While the incarceration and suspension of Vick were impossible to project, Petrino stood by his team. For thirteen games. After the Falcons began the season 3-10, Petrino left the Falcons to accept a deal to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Matt Ryan began his 2007 senior campaign for Boston College as a Heisman trophy candidate. Ryan's start to the year was fantastic, proving that his inclusion on the preseason All-ACC team was warranted.

Ryan's first misstep of the year was came against the Florida State Seminoles in a nationally televised prime-time game. In the game, Ryan was responsible for throwing three interceptions, ruining his chances for winning the Heisman and for appearing in the National Championship game.

While Ryan threw for an impressive 31 touchdowns and won awards for being the nation's best quarterback, he also threw 19 picks and failed to win the ACC, losing to Virginia Tech in the title game.

After Ryan was drafted by the Falcons, he was rewarded with a massive $72 million contract, making him the third highest paid player in the NFL, behind Super Bowl champions Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

Ryan's contract became the issue of some debate amongst pundits of whether or not a rookie salary cap was essential. Even after signing the big contract, Ryan was thrust into a competition in training camp.

Quarterbacks like Brady Quinn and Carson Palmer held the clipboard for the extent of their rookie seasons, being given a year to study the pro game. When Ryan was named the starter over Chris Redman, many thought rookie coach Mike Smith had made the incorrect choice.
They call Ryan "Matty Ice". He has earned that nickname thus far in 2008. While Michael Turner has been just as responsible, if not more, for the resurgence of the Atlanta Falcons, Ryan has shown that he possesses ice water in his veins.

The Atlanta Falcons have become relevant again thanks to Ryan's wisdom beyond his years every Sunday. Ryan's ability to not turn the ball over has been surprisingly effective, being responsible for just six picks and one lost fumble in twelve games.

Ryan has become a clubhouse leader and one of two serious candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

If you look carefully at Falcons home games, you can see Falcons 7 jerseys in the stands. No matter how many games Ryan wins with the Falcons, he'll never be as ESPN friendly as Michael Vick.

Some Falcons fans might even call for Arthur Blank to bring Vick back to Atlanta when his jail sentence is over. But, for the time being, the guy they call Matty Ice has warmed the hearts of all the Falcons fans that have lost hope. The Falcons needed a savior.

They have one.