When he stands before the media, Matt Ryan is as polished as they come.
Every word is calculated and mostly it's calculated not to divulge any secret to the opposition, betray any teammate or strategy or fire up the other team with so-called bulletin board material.
In a rare moment last season, Ryan let his emotions get the best of him and the cameras were watching. As the Falcons pulled off an improbable rally against the Carolina Panthers in the final seconds at the Georgia Dome, a fired-up Ryan was caught by television cameras telling the Panthers, "to get the (expletive) off my field."
The Panthers took exception and used Ryan's words as motivation for the second meeting in Charlotte, trouncing the Falcons the eventual top seed in the NFC Playoffs. Carolina enjoyed leads of 23-0 in the third quarter and 30-13 late.
The Panthers, 7-9 last year, didn't have anything to play for on that day except for the sake of wounded pride.
Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Ryan "totally disrespected us" in the first game, as the Falcons were backed up to their own 1 with 1:09 left in regulation, but kicked the winning field goal as time expired.
"They won the game," Munnerlyn said last December. "They came all of the way back to beat us. But to say what he said, I dont think there was cause for it."
Added Panthers right defensive end Greg Hardy prior to that second meeting "I want (the Falcons) to go home sick in the stomach and mad about life, a couple of depression issues, all types of things. Its going to be a long day from my point of view. Im coming."
And the Panthers came. In hindsight, it was stunning the motivation came from Ryan, who is so careful about such things, as opposed to, say, wide receiver Roddy White famously feuding with the New Orleans Saints and their fans.
On Wednesday, Ryan downplayed the incident from last season.
"You know what, like I said, it's an emotional game, and it's a game where a lot goes on," he said. "It happens. That's part of the game. They certainly got after us the second time up there. We can't worry about that. It happens every week. You've got to go out there and play your best."
During a Wednesday conference call, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was asked why his team was so offended by Ryan's words. At first, he pretended not to remember, but then explained it in his next breath.
"I dont know what you're talking about, he said, "but it's just a respect thing. As an athlete and as a competitor, you always look for any type of thing to give you an edge, or give you a reason to play with a chip on your shoulder; and I think thats what a lot of guys played with last year. Not like we don't need any other reasons to play hard besides going out here to win. Those guys feel as if they need something, and that was the something they needed."
For their Week 8 victory over Tampa Bay, the Panthers exceeded the .500 mark for the first time in 70 games, longest streak in the NFL, by far. The Falcons have enjoyed much success against their divisional cousins to the north, winning seven of nine meetings prior to last December's game.
As a result, for the first time since 2008, the shoe is on the other foot. For that reason, Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who referred to the rivalry as a matchup between brothers who want to beat each other, said the Falcons' 2-5 record and his team's 4-3 mark don't matter.
Instead of pride, the Panthers are now playing for relevance; so they dont have to play silly motivational games. Carolina is tied with Chicago, a half-game behind Detroit (5-3) for the NFC's second wild-card spot.
Rivera, in his third season, said the Panthers are starting to believe they're are a good football team.
"You want to beat the good teams because, again, they're great measuring sticks," Rivera said. "Throw the records out. There's too many good football players on this team.
"(The Falcons have) had some tough breaks and things not go their way. I've been through it. I know what it's like. I've done it for the last two years, and it's nice to have a little fortune on our side. We want to continue to work hard and make good things happen for us."
This time, it seems, motivation from an unlikely source is not required.