After being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008, the major concern about Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was that he'd encounter some kind of sophomore slump in 2009. Ryan's performance in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins should alleviate most of those worries.
Ryan, the third pick overall in the 2008 draft out of Boston College, was 22-of-36 in the air against the Dolphins, tossing two touchdowns without an interception in leading the Falcons to a 19-7 victory Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Second-year Falcons coach Mike Smith was complimentary of his second-year signal-caller.
"I thought Matt played well. … He made some big throws on third down and will continue to make more of those. I think as the season progresses, and [Ryan and his receivers] spend more time working with one another, they're going to continue to make those plays when the opportunities are presented."
Ryan's most-targeted receiver on Sunday was offseason acquisition and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who made five catches for a team-high 73 yards and a score. Gonzalez's 20-yard touchdown in the third quarter lifted the longtime Chief past 11,000 career receiving yards.
"Without question, he makes my job easier as a quarterback," said Ryan of his new target. "He is a mix-match for defenses. Coaches have to decide whether a linebacker, safety or cornerback is the best option. Tony did a good job for us in third-down situations and in the red zone for us. He did a good job for us today and that is something we'll need all season."
As a rookie last year, Ryan played a big part in the Falcons recovering from the loss of Michael Vick to reach the playoffs as a wild-card team. But before Sunday, there was anxiety among the so-called experts about how he'd adjust and continue to improve entering his second season as a pro. But Ryan was confident he'd be able to avoid any sort of letdown.
"I am much more prepared now to deal with the ebbs and flows of the season," he said after the win. "I learned that you have to stay level-headed. I am [more] comfortable dealing with these things this year as opposed to last."
Ryan was quick to give plenty of praise also to the Falcons defense on Sunday, who shut out the Dolphins until Chad Pennington tossed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Williams late in the fourth.
"They gave us great field position," said Ryan, "which helped us score throughout the game. They played physically against a good Miami offense. They kept them off the scoreboard until three minutes remaining in the ballgame. I give a lot of credit to those guys on the defensive side of the ball."
Starting off the season with a win was paramount in Ryan's mind.
"It is all good to me. We got the win and that is all that matters," he said. "Miami is a good team and that was something we knew going in. It was a long and physical game. We have to tip our hats to them for competing to the end."
But Ryan, the winner of three bowl games in three seasons as the quarterback of the Eagles, didn't earn his reputation by dwelling on the past. The 24-year-old is already looking ahead to the Falcons' Week 2 home matchup against a fierce division rival.
"We will continue to work hard and make improvements. The Carolina Panthers will be ready to play and we have to make sure we handle our business."
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