FLOWERY BRANCH -- While guiding the Falcons to the playoffs as a rookie, Matt Ryan was as quiet as a church mouse.
He followed the unspoken NFL protocol which mandates that rookies are to be seen, but not heard.
"That's something that has probably changed this year," Ryan said.
There was a key moment in Sunday's scintillating 27-24 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints that showed his growth as a quarterback and that he's the unquestioned leader of the team.
Ryan, with his face in full red glow, had a fire-breathing, mouth-spitting, finger-wagging moment with a lineman who wasn't ready for the play call and forced him to call a timeout.
Most all of the great quarterbacks in the NFL have ascended to their thrones with these kinds of moments.
"I love it," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "I just love it. It's Matt's team. He's the face of this franchise. He's the future of this franchise. He's going to be one of the best quarterbacks in this league before it's all said and done."
Even the defensive players have noticed Ryan taking a firmer grasp of the team's reins.
"As quarterback you have to be out there and in control," defensive end Chauncey Davis said. "You can see him taking control. Sometimes it gets crazy out there with the penalties and stuff. He'll get everybody together and tell them to settle down."
The players have a signal that tells them when Ryan really is hot. His face becomes flush with blood and turns red as the throwback helmets the team will wear against San Francisco on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
As a third-year player, he's not getting the pushback from players that he might have gotten if he had tried to inspire his teammates as a rookie.
"That's a great thing," wide receiver Harry Douglas said. "You want your leader to be the quarterback. When he can do that, take control and get us all going, that's good. It shows his leadership and how much he's grown as a person and a player."
Ryan does not try to calculate his explosions. He doesn't know when his competitive juices will start to boil over.
"It comes and goes," Ryan said. "Obviously, situations dictate those kind of things [and] when you need to speak up. The more you become a veteran in this league, the more vocal you can become."
In some ways, Ryan just thinks it's his natural progression to the front of the class.
"I don't feel like I'm doing anything different," Ryan said. "I feel like playing this position, that's part of what you need to do. With that said, the longer you're around, the more comfortable you feel doing it."
Gonzalez played with quarterbacks Elvis Grbac, Rich Gannon, Trent Green, Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen in Kansas City.
"That's really kind of the finishing product and feeling that confidence to say this is what I want out of all of you guys, and guys are respecting him, too," Gonzalez said. "You look at any successful team around this league, and their quarterbacks are like that. They are the team leaders, the vocal guys and getting guys in the right place. Matt is doing that for us."
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