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Falcons' Matt Ryan unanimous pick as NFC South comeback player of year


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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the unanimous choice for NFC South comeback player of the year as voted on by the four NFL Nation reporters covering the division for ESPN.com.

Jenna Laine, Bucs reporter: Ryan didn't suffer a season-ending injury last year, but at 31 and coming off a down season, he made it work in Kyle Shanahan's system, propelling his team into the playoffs and himself into the MVP conversation with a career-best 38 touchdowns.

Vaughn McClure, Falcons reporter: Nobody can deny the type of bounce-back season Ryan had following a trying 2015 season that had nothing to do with injury. The only thing hurting after last season was the Falcons' feelings after Ryan and his teammates struggled to an 8-8 finish following a 5-0 start. The decline had plenty to do with his 21 turnovers in 2015, including four red-zone interceptions. This season, Ryan passed for a franchise-record 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns. He also cut down on his turnovers with only nine, with seven interceptions -- one in the red zone -- and two lost fumbles. During a four-game winning streak to finish the regular season, Ryan threw 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. The most important number was 11, the number of wins Ryan helped the Falcons accumulate against five losses, a record that resulted in the NFC South title and a first-round playoff bye.

David Newton, Panthers reporter: I had Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin pegged for this spot before the season. He was coming off a season-ending knee injury in training camp and was thrown into the league's top offense from 2015. But he didn't even match his 2014 numbers. So I'm going with a player who not only is the comeback player of the year, but potentially the NFL Player of the Year. I'm going with a player who came off a bad year (by his standards) and not an injury. I'm going with Ryan, who threw a career-best 38 touchdown passes after throwing only 21 a year ago.

Mike Triplett, Saints reporter: Ryan wasn't exactly in danger of being benched or anything, but his 2015 season was so pedestrian (21 touchdowns, 16 interceptions) that he ranked 13th among quarterbacks in ESPN's preseason poll of 42 anonymous NFL coaches, coordinators and personnel executives. As one personnel director said, "I haven't completely lost faith in him, but I thought he could be a guy who could tilt the field more. Now, I think he has fallen more in line with the game manager and not a guy who is going to pull it out by himself." Never mind that assessment. Ryan's ridiculous 2016 season was one for the ages. The Saints' best comeback candidates are RB Mark Ingram (who had a career-high 1,043 rushing yards and 10 TDs after missing the last four games of 2015 because of a shoulder injury) and guard Jahri Evans, who was released last February after battling injuries, then re-signed in September and started every game.


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