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What the haters got wrong about Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense

Matt Ryan has earned first-team All Pro honors and probably the MVP award, and he’s also earned your respect.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan should be the NFL’s MVP for the 2016 season. This isn’t even a question.

Ryan led the league’s top-scoring offense in 2016. He hit 13 different receivers in the end zone, setting an NFL record. He threw 38 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, and he dropped 40-plus points on four different teams this season.

He did that on the heels of a season in which he passed for just 21 touchdowns while throwing 16 interceptions and fumbling the ball away four times.

The 2015 season ended with the Falcons improving upon the previous two seasons with an 8-8 finish, but it still felt like an abject failure for the most part, especially after the team jumped out to a 6-1 start.

To have talent like Ryan and Julio Jones, and considering Devonta Freeman’s early-season emergence as one of the best running backs in the game, to hit a six-game losing streak and finish at .500 was anticlimactic.

And fans responded poorly. Ryan was booed during Falcons games. Loud boos rained down on him when he was simply minding his own business, trying to enjoy an Atlanta Hawks game. Ryan even got booed at the 2016 Season Huddle event for season ticket holders.

Ryan’s response to that was to get to work.

“I think it all started in the offseason, when (Ryan) flew everyone down to Miami and we got together as a whole group in the offseason,” wide receiver Eric Weems said. “He paid for the rooms, our food and everything. I think it started then. He let us know then that, hey, it’s time. He’s done playing. He’s done fooling around, and he’s trying to get better.”

And he did get better. As a matter of fact, he’s been extraordinary. In addition to earning his fourth Pro Bowl nod, Ryan earned first-team All Pro honors for the first time in his career. The Pro Football Writers of American named Ryan its MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. He’s the favorite to be named the NFL’s MVP for 2016, and it’s deserved.

And here the Falcons are, on the cusp of the final game in the Georgia Dome, and looking to close it out with one last win — one that will send the team to its second Super Bowl appearance in its 51-year history. If they’re able to do it, if the Falcons manage to get past the Green Bay Packers and advance to the Super Bowl, we’ll all have Matt Ryan to thank.

Ryan has played with a different level of poise and confidence this season. That’s the key difference in his game.

Some of that comes from the stability at center brought about by the addition of Alex Mack. Some of it is just improved wide receiver depth, and the host of playmakers the team has on offense. Much of it, though, is just Ryan.

Left guard Andy Levitre cited Matt’s preparation as a key factor in the team’s success.

“I’ve never been around a player in this league who is as sharp as he is every day on the football field, and knows everything that’s going on,” Levitre said. “He knows the whole offense the day we install it, it seems like.

“So it’s a credit to him for his determination and everything he puts in to help us be successful.”

Ryan has always been a leader. He has always been a good quarterback. He has always been too good to justify the boos.

“He’s always been that good of a player,” left tackle Jake Matthews said. “I just think this year we’ve really put it all together. So yeah, I just think we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

But this year Ryan has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Let’s hope he does it again this week against the Packers.