After brilliant season, Falcons QB Ryan shrugs off MVP talk

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Good luck trying to get Matt Ryan to discuss his MVP chances.

His boss isn't so shy.

''If I had a vote for MVP, it would certainly be Matt,'' Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday. ''He's had a fantastic year in a lot of ways.''

Ryan just finished up the best regular season of his career, leading the Falcons to a division championship and first-round bye in the playoffs . There is no doubt he is one of the top contenders for the NFL's highest individual honor, usually included in the same breath with New England's Tom Brady, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott.

The Falcons have never had a player capture the MVP award.

Ryan shrugged off his chances, again showing his adept ability to scramble away from saying much of anything that will draw attention to himself. He truly is the ultimate team player, which is why the quarterback is so revered in the Atlanta locker room.

''It's obviously nice to be mentioned, for sure,'' Ryan said. ''That's special. But at the end of the day, we've got bigger things in front of us.''

Ryan closed with a flourish, throwing for 331 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. It was his fourth straight game with a rating above 120, good enough to claim the NFC offensive player of the week award for the second time this season.

As impressive as he's been on the field, Ryan contributes just as much to the Falcons' success when he's away from the spotlight.

''There are so many things that don't show up on the stat sheet,'' Quinn said. ''How many people he's affected on our team. He's a fantastic teammate. That's one of the highest praises you can give to a ballplayer.''

Ryan endured some baffling mistakes last season, raising doubts that he'd ever be the guy to lead the Falcons to their first Super Bowl championship.

Turns out, he had to work through an adjustment period with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who came aboard with Quinn after the firing of long-time coach Mike Smith.

''We were just trying to get to where we needed to be,'' receiver Julio Jones said.

In Year 2, coordinator and quarterback are in total sync. Shanahan is now one of the hottest assistants in the league, leading to an interview for the Denver Broncos head coaching job.

''He picked up the offense,'' Jones said of Ryan. ''He understands this read, that read, what Kyle wants. You can see the production. It would have been there last year, but we just didn't gel as well.''

Ryan was the league's highest-rated passer, completing 69.9 percent of his attempts for a career-best 4,944 yards, with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The most impressive part of this season is the way he's gotten everyone involved, becoming the first quarterback to throw scoring passes to 13 different receivers.

''We get a lot guys involved,'' Quinn said. ''Our whole team has a real clear understanding of our identity.''

Coaches and teammates may be campaigning for him, but don't expect Ryan to talk up his chances.

Just not his style.

''I think I've played well,'' Ryan said. ''But I don't think about it too much, in all honesty. You focus on trying to prepare well and trying to play well. That's been a formula that's worked pretty well.''

Notes: With an extra week of recovery time, Quinn said he's optimistic that everyone on the 53-man roster will be ready to go in the playoffs. That includes WR Taylor Gabriel (foot) and TE Austin Hooper (knee), who didn't play in the regular-season finale against New Orleans. The Falcons will also keep an eye on LB-DE Vic Beasley (shoulder) and CB Robert Alford (knee), who were hurt in the Saints game. Quinn said some players will be limited this week, but they should be ready to go when the Falcons return to a regular practice schedule next Tuesday.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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