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Matt Ryan has been a major factor in the MVP race over the past few weeks, thanks to his role in the Falcons becoming the top-scoring offense in the NFL this season. In the Atlanta Falcons’ 38-32 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Ryan made a compelling case for his candidacy.

In the first quarter, Ryan posted a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3. In the first half alone, Ryan completed 17 of 19 passes for 235 yards and four touchdowns, to four different receivers. Ryan finished the game 27 of 36 passing for 331 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

Following the game, the talk of Ryan as the eventual MVP ramped up, and rightfully so.

“Numbers don’t lie,” Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said after the win. “Look at his numbers. It don’t get better than that.”

This season, Ryan finished with 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, all career bests.

Arguments can be made for Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Ezekiel Elliott as potential MVP candidates, but Ryan’s performance against New Orleans was an exclamation point on an entire season that proved he is deserving of that recognition.

Ryan hasn’t done it alone

NFL MVP is an individual award, but football is a team sport. It’s disingenuous to ignore the role that a strong offensive line, dynamic receivers, and a solid pair of running backs have played in Ryan’s career year.

Adding center Alex Mack in free agency provided the stability along the offensive line that Ryan needed to execute offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s game plan effectively. An assortment of receiving weapons has made Atlanta’s offense nearly impossible for defenses to handle.

Versatility has been a hallmark of Atlanta’s explosive offense all year. Ryan hit 13 different receivers for touchdowns this season, which is an NFL record.

Of course, one of those receivers is Julio Jones, who is always a threat to dismantle defenses. However, this season — and against the Saints — Jones was far from the only factor. As a matter of fact, perhaps the biggest difference in Ryan’s game this season was that he ceased being so reliant on Jones.

Jones put together a productive season, with 1,409 receiving yards and six touchdowns, but he missed two games and Ryan didn’t skip a beat. Jones had four games this season where he totaled 35 or fewer receiving yards, and the Falcons went 4-0 in those games.

On Sunday, Ryan found Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, and running back Tevin Coleman for touchdowns. That’s par for the course for this offense. It doesn’t matter if teams limit Jones. Players like Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson, and Sanu have stepped up throughout the season to help Ryan get the job done.

Ryan says that’s just the offense doing what it’s supposed to do.

“To me, that’s what you want to do as an offense,” Ryan said. “That’s what you want to do as a quarterback. When games shake out a certain way, you have to figure out what you have to do to win games. I’m proud of the way we handled that.”

But Ryan deserves recognition for his individual execution

Ryan joined elite company this season when he became only the third quarterback in NFL history to finish the regular season with more than 35 passing touchdowns and fewer than 10 picks.


It’s a big difference from Ryan’s 2015 season, which was Atlanta’s first with Shanahan as OC. When Ryan’s first offensive coordinator in Atlanta, Mike Mularkey, moved on and Dirk Koetter was hired to take his place, the Falcons kept the offensive terminology the same. Not so with Shanahan, who changed everything. Last season was a big adjustment for the whole offense.

And it showed in Ryan’s performance. He finished the 2015 season with 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He also fumbled the ball a staggering 12 times, losing five. That’s part of what makes Ryan’s dominance this season so impressive.

There was a time, before Atlanta’s four-game winning streak to close out the season, when the Falcons’ playoff chances were in doubt. Over those four wins, Ryan and the Falcons outscored opponents 154-75 and cruised to the postseason. The prolific offense put up a whopping 540 points this season, and Ryan has been the one to make it hum.

It’s not just Ryan’s play, either. Center Alex Mack said it’s also Ryan’s leadership.

“He is an awesome guy, really down to earth, and he has done a great job taking care of his business,” Mack said. “He is super professional, holds people accountable, and he just comes in every day ready to work with a good attitude.”

* * *

While Ryan has set the tone for the offense, his teammates — and fans — support his candidacy for MVP.

In the Georgia Dome, in a city where Matt Ryan was loudly booed at an Atlanta Hawks game just over a year ago, chants of “MVP!” rained down on Sunday. They got louder and louder as the game neared its end.

Ryan enjoyed that.

“It feels pretty good,” Ryan said. “That was nice of our fans to do that and a pretty cool moment out there today. It felt really good.”

With the win over New Orleans, the Falcons locked up the second seed in the NFC, and the first-round bye that goes with it. Ryan also secured his status as a leading candidate for MVP.

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