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Gonzalez: Matt Ryan 'complete master at this game'

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Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez is stumping for his former quarterback.

Appearing on Thursday's edition of NFL Total Access, Gonzalez pointed to Matt Ryan's improvement as one of the primary differences between this year's Atlanta Falcons and the 2012 edition that lost in the NFC Championship Game to the San Francisco 49ers.

"Let's be realistic, I think Matt is playing at a higher level than what he was that year for us," Gonzalez said. "He's using everybody. The ball distribution is at an all-time high for him, and it's the reason why he should get MVP this year because he's playing out of his mind."

Ryan can't match the spectacular highlight-reel plays of Aaron Rodgers, but he has pulled off a convincing Peyton Manning impersonation. Ryan directs Kyle Shanahan's offense like an all-star point guard, targeting the right receiver in his progressions, hitting bullseyes with his passes and attacking downfield better than any quarterback in the NFL.

The Falcons' 540 points are the eighth-most in NFL history. The 2007 New England Patriots (52.9) are the only team in history to score on a higher percentage of drives than Atlanta's 52.6 this season.

If Ryan generates a passer rating over 120.0 versus the Packers, he will break the NFL record for most consecutive games reaching that mark. Perhaps most impressive, Ryan is the first quarterback ever to direct his offense to opening-drive touchdowns in seven consecutive games.

"He's a complete master at this game right now," Gonzalez marveled.

Although Ryan has always been viewed as a legitimate franchise quarterback, he faced heavy criticism for the first time last season after throwing 16 interceptions in his debut with Shanahan's offense. Gonzalez firmly believes this year's magic is a direct result of that adversity.

"When you go through those hard times, that's when you ask those questions that normally you wouldn't," Gonzalez explained. "If you win, you don't ask questions. You don't worry about it. I think him having the type of season he had last year, this offseason he was a mad man going after anything and everything to get better and it's showing up this year. It's the best thing that's ever happened."

Of all the players involved in Championship Sunday, Ryan might just have the most on the line. If he collects the MVP trophy while leading his team to the Super Bowl title, he will start down a peril-filled path that ultimately leads to the Hall of Fame.

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