Matt Ryan was asked this week if the NFL had named him as a Pro Bowl alternate.
His eyes instantly lit up, but then the Atlanta Falcons’ 23-year-old rookie quarterback sidestepped his inner emotional rush and assessed the situation.
“Uh, you know, yeah,” Ryan said, lowering his voice to its familiar monotone. “I think that kind of stuff — you’d have to ask coach [Mike Smith] about that.”
If you guessed, one, that Ryan is indeed a Pro Bowl alternate and that, two, he prefers a low profile, you’re right on both counts.
But the more Atlanta keeps winning, the harder it will be for Ryan to avoid discussing his credentials. Entering this week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, the league’s No. 3 overall pick in the April draft has helped the Falcons emerge as a surprise playoff contender.
Ryan has already exceeded expectations by the Falcons. In four seasons playing for Boston College, Ryan became known for his calm and control, and leading numerous comebacks.
He is the first rookie quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to start his team’s first six games and win at least four times.
Sacked just once every 28.8 attempts, Ryan has benefited from steady protection that allows him enough time to go through his progressions. He ranks third in yards per completion (13) and yards per attempt (8.02).
But while Ryan has a 6-1 record in Atlanta, he’s only 3-5 when he’s not on his home turf.
Though he knows the crowd in Minnesota will delight in throwing off his cadence and affecting his pre-snap count, Ryan believes he benefits from bad experiences this early in his career.
The trick, of course, is not to repeat mistakes.
“You start to get a feel for calling the plays and all those kind of things, but you need that experience of going through reps,” Ryan said of what he learned during the mini-camps and organized team activities.
“I think in camp I started to feel a little more comfortable,” he said. “Those preseason games, for a rookie, are huge, and to have some success going out and making some plays in the games, I think that helps build your confidence.”