Matt Ryan is the unquestioned leader of the Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Falcons owner Arthur Blank knows a little bit about business and the free-enterprise system.

He sees a lot of traits in Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan that he saw in some of his successful business leaders as he helped build the Home Depot empire.

"I'm thrilled to have him as the guy under center for us," Blank said. "That's what you want of every team leader, a guy who comes in first and leaves last; that's Matt Ryan."

Those traits transcend both worlds.

"Whether if it's a football organization or a business organization, you want you leaders to function that way," Blank said. "He has the energy for it. He has the brights for it, and he has the respect of his teammates."

Ryan, the unquestioned leader of the Falcons, will lead them against the Green Bay Packers in a NFC divisional-round playoff game at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

"It's his team," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "There is no doubt about it. ... He is the present and the future of this organization as far as the football players go."

After winning the starting job in training camp in 2008, Ryan hit the ground running as rookie. His first pass in the NFL went for a touchdown, and when the dust settled, the Falcons were 11-5 and headed for the playoffs.

Last season, Ryan was slowed by a gruesome turf-toe injury. He came back to lead the team to three wins down the stretch as the team finished 9-7 and posted the franchise's first back-to-back winning seasons.

This season, with a better command of the offense and how to deploy his weapons, Ryan was unstoppable at times.

He had earned the nickname Matty Ice from some high school buddies for his performance under pressure, and he has continued to thrive at crunch time in the NFL.

He has led the Falcons to 13 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including a 20-17 victory over Green Bay at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 28. He also led game-winning drives over New Orleans, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Tampa Bay this season.

"I think he's shown his ability under pressure and in the fourth quarter of games, to play at a high level," Blank said. "In the NFL, teams, and quarterbacks in particular, are judged on how did they play in the last quarter of the game; in the big games, how did they play?"

Well, Ryan is getting ready to play in the biggest game of his NFL career.

He's much more in control than he was as a rookie when the Falcons faced Arizona in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

"I think at this point in my career -- three years into it as opposed to going into my first year -- my preparation is much better than it was a couple of years ago," Ryan said. "In the back of my head, I know I'm better prepared than I was a couple of years ago."

In the Arizona game, Ryan's first pass attempt was intercepted. He went on to set a rookie postseason record with 26 completions, but remembers the bumpy start.

"You've got to settle down pretty quick after you throw a pick on your first pass," Ryan said. "For the most part, I think I responded pretty well to it, but again, we've just got to be better with the football."

Ryan remembers that Arizona turned three turnovers into 14 points.

"I think that's the name of the game in the playoffs, possessing the football and not giving them stupid turnovers," Ryan said.

Ryan, who is 2-0 as a starter against the Packers, plans to make the most of his second postseason appearance.

"The opportunities don't come around often," Ryan said. "The playoffs are not easy to get to. It's not easy to advance. It's important to put your best out there when you have the opportunity."

Gonzalez sees more playoff trips down the road for Ryan.

"It's been great to watch his growing process, and he's only going to get better," Gonzalez said. "That's the good thing about it. If you think he's good right now, wait until you see what he's doing next year and the year after that when he really, really gets comfortable out there on the field."