According to GM Thomas Dimitroff, a pivotal moment came when he, head coach Mike Smith, and QB coach Bill Musgrave visited Ryan at Boston College:
"We're in a meeting room, and Bill is tossing around and firing a lot of what we refer to as 'exotics' at him. So Matt just gets up and goes to the dry-erase board and starts drawing what Bill was asking about. It reminded me of the character in A Beautiful Mind. It was almost as if he finished drawing all these things, plopped the marker back down and basically said, 'You got anything else for me?' "
Ryan has helped ATL win six of its first nine games this season. Insiders say Ryan's innate leadership ability has been the difference:
Those who know him say that when the politely humble player steps onto the field, he becomes a different person.
Steely. Focused. Demanding. Times 10.
"When he walks into the huddle," says his college coach, Jeff Jagodzinski, "everybody knows it's going to be OK, no matter how dire the situation. Some guys have it and some guys don't. He has it. It's hard to put your finger on it, but he just has that 'it' factor."
Ryan has a strong sense of the responsibility the Falcons have placed upon him. He views it as a simple but all-important job requirement.
"That's what a quarterback has to do," he says. "You've got to get in there and get everybody on the same page. But that's kind of the way I've always been in terms of playing. Whatever my personality is in the locker room or whatever, when it's time to go to work, it's time to go to work."
Says Dimitroff: "His natural leadership skills are rising to the top."