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Matty Ice Moments: 2008 Rookie of the Year

Matt Ryan re-energized a franchise and a fanbase in a magical rookie season.

Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year Press Conference Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Last offseason, I wrote a series of Throwback Thursday articles looking back at some of the most memorable moments in Atlanta Falcons history. That series culminated with an article looking back at the time newly minted general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall pick. Here’s how that specific article concluded:

As you may or may not have noticed, there wasn’t a single one of these articles which was dedicated to any moment in the Matt Ryan era; that was by design. In this upcoming offseason, I hope to write a series of “Matty Ice Moments” articles, which look back on nothing but moments in the Matt Ryan era.

Well, that time has come — welcome to the “Matty Ice Moments” series. This will be a series of articles dedicated to looking back on Matt Ryan-centric moments, in an attempt to help distract us from the dead period a little bit.

And if you don’t like Matt Ryan and think that we’re focusing on him too much this offseason, then that’s just too bad, I guess.

You can find last week’s article in this series, looking back on Ryan’s rookie year comeback against the Bears, here.

2008 Rookie of the Year

I’ve mentioned many times just how awful things would have been for the Falcons in 2008 and beyond had they not selected Matt Ryan with the third overall selection in the draft, and if he hadn’t been such a home run pick.

Being such a high draft pick on a team featuring nothing but below average quarterback play (sorry Chris Redman and D.J. Shockley), it wasn’t a surprise when Ryan won the starting job in preseason. Him throwing his first pass for a touchdown may been a tad bit surprising, however.

Ryan far surpassed any reasonable expectations placed on him as a rookie starter on a team that went 4-12 the year before.

He shattered almost all of the franchise rookie quarterback records, and it was clear from the start that the kid out of Boston College would be a legitimate factor in the season’s Rookie of the Year race.

Ryan finished the season with 3,440 passing yards, becoming just the second rookie quarterback ever to throw for 3,000 passing yards (Peyton Manning being the other). He also became the first Falcons quarterback to throw for 3,000 passing yards since Chris Chandler did it in 1998.

He won the Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Week award three times for his performances in Weeks 6, 15, and 16, against the Bears, Buccaneers, and Vikings. That tied Dallas running back Felix Jones (who won all three of his in the first five weeks) for most in 2008. Ryan was also named NFC Offensive Player of the Week one time for that Week 6 masterpiece against the Bears.

In addition to the impressive yardage, Ryan also tallied a positive TD/INT ratio of 17 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He finished 11th in the NFL with an 87.7 overall passer rating after putting up a passer rating of over 115.0 five separate times. The four game-winning drives also solidified the nickname “Matty Ice”.

More importantly than anything else, however, was the fact that Ryan did what few thought was possible in leading the Falcons to a postseason berth with an 11-5 record. Just a year earlier, the Falcons were in shambles — having lost their franchise quarterback to off-the-field factors and having had their head coach disappear into the night like a coward.

Ryan and fellow rookie Joe Flacco became the first rookie QBs in NFL history to start all 16 games and lead their teams to the playoffs.

The resume was there for Ryan to submit his AP Offensive Rookie of the Year credentials: the statistics were there, the team success was there, and so was that “wow” moment (which came in Week 6 against the Bears).

Ryan did face some stiff competition for the award, however — namely Tennessee rookie running back out of East Carolina Chris Johnson.

Johnson was a special talent — he was the fastest player in the NFL and had just set the official 40-yard dash time record with a 4.24 mark at the combine during the draft process. He was an offensive linchpin for a Titans team that finished with an NFL-best 13-3 record.

Johnson totaled 1,488 yards from scrimmage (1,228 of them rushing) and 10 total touchdowns (nine rushing, one receiving) en route to a Pro Bowl appearance and two of his own Rookie of the Week awards. He would become just the sixth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in the next season. He was a force.

The voters rewarded Ryan’s impact as a quarterback in leading the Falcons to an unlikely playoff appearance, as opposed to Johnson’s gaudy numbers as a piece in a 13-3 Titans puzzle (fellow RB LenDale White put up 773 rushing yards along with 15 total TDs and QB Kerry Collins was also named to the Pro Bowl).

The results were overwhelmingly in Ryan’s favor — he garnered 44 votes while Johnson had just three. Broncos’ tackle Ryan Clady got two votes, while Bears’ RB Matt Forte scooped up one.

Matt Ryan had become the first (and so far only) Atlanta Falcon to ever win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and just the fourth ever QB to accept the honor, along with Dennis Shaw in 1970, Dan Marino in 1983, Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and Vince Young in 2006. He joined Claude Humphrey in 1968 and Buddy Curry and Al Richardson (who shared the award) in 1980 as the only Falcons to ever be named Rookie of the Year.

What Matt Ryan did in 2008 was give hope to a city which had none after the fiasco which was 2007. He had re-energized a franchise and a fanbase, and it’s something we can’t thank him for enough as Falcons fans, personally. Chris Johnson had some good numbers, but few rookies in NFL history have managed to impact a franchise the way Matt Ryan did.