For much of his decade in the NFL, Matt Ryan has been the quarterback fraternity’s embodiment of a tree falling in a forest.

How many other quarterbacks at the helm of a blistering offense would be Rosa Parked into the rear of the MVP discussion for most of the year despite throwing for nearly 5000 yards and 40 touchdowns in addition to securing a first round bye?  Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Randall Cunningham, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner, each captained one of the 10 highest scoring offenses in history at one time. They were also unequivocally celebrated during their respective runs.

It’s par for the course when it comes to Ryan. He began his career as Atlanta’s rebound quarterback after Michael Vick was confined to a federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Atlanta is a glitzy southern city striving to become a metropolis. It’s growing rapidly, but the problem is that its population is largely transient. That combination of factors combines to create a dynamic in which the emotionally detached fan base rallies around marketable icons such as Deion Sanders, Vick, Josh Smith, Dominique Wilkins, Julio Jones and the audible cacophony of Jerry Glanville over the measured production of the Warrick Dunns, Joe Johnsons, Jamal Anderson or Al Horfords.

Aside from the visual splendor Vick provided every Sunday afternoon, evening or Monday night, a significant aspect of his allure was cosmetic. As the most prominent black quarterback in the NFL, in a city known as the hub of the Black Civil Rights movement, he was placed in a protective shell.

Vick was a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 once he received a snap. He was explosive in both a beneficial and detrimental way.

When his play and atttude began to deteriorate in 2006, the flip side of those intense emotions emerged when Falcons fans grew weary. The crescendo featured Vick flipping Dirty Bird loyalists “the bird” following a loss to the New Orleans Saints. The hiring of Bobby Petrino was the front office’s final attempt to salvage the Vick era.

Ten years after the surreality of Vick’s incarceration for operating a dogfighting ring run out of his backyard, fans watching Louisville’s Lamar Jackson matriculate the ball downfield by land and air, wondering if Petrino could have been that type of catalyst for Vick’s career. Instead, Petrino presided over an offense piloted by substitute quarterbacks.

What they should have been wondering is how Petrino could have been rocket fuel for young Matt Ryan. As opposed to Vick’s cigarette near a puddle of gasoline approach to offensive management, Ryan was drafted for his utilitarian quarterbackmanship. Vick held a vice grip on the hearts of Falcon fans. Ryan hasn’t created a similar visceral connection, but he’s the rational fan’s preference.

Vick was a collegiate legend before the end of his freshman campaign. Prior to his senior season at Boston College, Ryan had only thrown 25 touchdowns to 18 interceptions in three seasons.

During his final campaign, he logged 31 touchdowns to 19 interceptions. His subpar touchdown to interception ratio was chalked up to the byproduct of chucking it nearly 50 times a game from a pro-style 11 man personnel package. If Ryan’s last name were Manning, he probably would have been the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 over Jake and Chris Long.

Despite this handicap, Ryan was able to build his profile by thrusting the Golden Eagles into the BCS’ top 2.  However, his pick-six in the final minute and change of an October showdown with Florida State yanked him back to sea level.

For almost a decade, Ryan has occupied the stealthy neutral ground Vick was seemingly unable to find.

He’s neither polarizing nor irrelevant.

Before the season, you could argue he only barely ranked inside the top half of the league’s best quarterbacks.

Until this season, he’d been relegated to the third tier of franchise quarterbacks in the minds of league aficionados. But he wasn’t erratic enough to be viewed as the demarcation point between a franchise quarterback and an average starter as Andy Dalton’s been.

Ryan has quarterbacked two 13-3 Falcons teams onto the playoff tarmac twice, but It remained to be seen whether he was the wind propelling the Falcons offense forward or simply gliding along wherever the breeze carried him.

2010 was his most recent opportunity to glide into playoff firmament.

Unfortunately, Ryan was helpless in the fourth quarter of the 2012 NFC Championship Game as Colin Kaepernick and the Niners scored two touchdowns to erase a 24-14 lead.

What most forget is that Ryan finished four yards short of 400 yards against the Niners. That difference ended up matching the margin between a Super Bowl trip or being left knocking at the front door.

On 4th and 4 with under a minute remaining, Roddy White bounced a missile from Ryan off the turf. The completion would have awarded Atlanta a first down inside the 6-yard line.  The most crushing part of White’s drop was the egregious pass interference missed by officials.

Ryan is so camouflage, he received a modicum of the adulation he should have for a player of his caliber. Conversely, his diminishing production between 2013 and 2015 went largely under the radar.

After the NFC Championship Game, Ryan became a quarterback wearing cement shoes on a frozen lake. During the period in his prime when he should have been capitalizing on the lethal combination of Roddy White and Julio Jones, he was sinking. Over the next three seasons, Ryan threw two interceptions for every three interceptions, and earned a record at or below .500.

There were no predictive metrics pointing to Ryan planting his flag as the NFL’s top dog in 2016 and orchestrating the league’s most resplendent offensive fireworks show.

Four months ago, Atlanta Journal-Constitution scribe D. Orlando Ledbetter was forecasting a near future without Ryan and most experts considered him  the fourth best quarterback in his own division.

At the age of 31, Ryan’s no spring chicken, but he also didn’t retool his mechanics.

He can’t blame coaching instability for his past shortcomings. He’s only had three offensive coordinators in nine seasons.

Jones dialed up his usual 1,400 yards, but accounted for only six touchdown passes of Ryan’s  5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns.

Devonte Freeman’s original star turn occurred LAST season.

It was adjusting to the new offense which made all the difference. Like his father, Kyle Shanahan schemes for his quarterbacks to rollout off of play action and occasionally extend plays outside the confines of the pocket.

During Ryan’s three seasons under Dirk Koetter, 93.1 percent of his throws were from the pocket, which was sixth in the NFL according to ESPN’s Stats and Info research department.

The Browns attack was 30th in throws outside the pocket and 25th at the height of the RGIII era in D.C under Shanahan.

Shanahan never got an opportunity to truly take Kirk Cousins out for a spin. However, he’s making the most of his opportunity with Ryan. In the aftermath of a rocky start to their union which saw Ryan simultaneously throwing the fewest touchdowns and most interceptions of his career, year two has been harmonious for both.

Go peep the video video of Matty Ice as a Boston College senior on the road, resuscitating his team against 8th ranked Virginia Tech in the signature rally of his amateur career.

The poise and equanimity he demonstrated while being flushed from the pocket, coupled with his improvisation, spatial awareness and eyes locked downfield in crunch time stood out.

Unfortunately, they may have just one playoff run together as Son of Shanahan has emerged as a leading coaching candidate for several NFL vacancies. The next offensive coordinator would be wise to continue their current program.

However, there’s still work left to be done this season.

Before the season, ESPN’ Bill Barnwell projected the eventual Hall of Fame odds for worthy players on each one of the 32 NFL teams. Ryan was only given a 10 percent chance. That may be worth re-evaluating.

No quarterback has completed more passes through his first nine seasons in NFL history.

If he’s named NFL MVP, he’d join a select list.

Ryan fits the profile in all but one category.

Dan Fouts is the only modern-era Hall of Fame quarterback inductee who hasn’t either played in a Super Bowl, an NFL Championship Game or won multiple Grey Cups (Warren Moon).

If Ryan can thread a few more wins together over the next few weeks, it will go a longer way towards altering his legacy than an MVP.