Falcons’ Matt Ryan Doesn’t Want Playoff Rerun

, the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback, chafed from an 0-2 record in the playoffs, is well aware of the magnitude and finality of such games without the continual reminders. And he does not need to hear the seemingly endless loop that points out how quarterbacks are judged ultimately on whether their teams prosper in the postseason.

“Just not let all the outside things affect your preparation,” he said of the fresh approach. “Anybody who says they never hear or see this stuff to a certain degree is lying. You don’t think you are affected by it.”

In hindsight, Ryan, a perfectionist, realized he was unduly affected. So he has switched to alternate programming on the home screen, probably video of himself at work. In the off-season, Ryan endured an estimated 15 replays of the from the Green Bay Packers, in which he was intercepted twice and lost a fumble.

Two years before, against the Arizona Cardinals, there was the same personal turnover count — two picks, one fumble. And a similar result.

Beginning his third tournament go-round, Ryan aspires to approximate the leap made by Giants quarterback Eli Manning after he was 0-2 in win-or-else games.

“I think he won a ,” Ryan said knowingly at the team’s training complex. “I think he did play well.”

Any quarterback drafted as early as No. 3 over all, as he was, arrives with the bar placed neck-craning high. It is raised higher now that Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and a select few others dissect defenses with robotic efficiency, earning them the common identifier that all passers crave: elite.

Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, attempting to tamp down unreasonable expectations for Ryan, was quoted recently saying teams could contend for the Super Bowl with quarterbacks “on very valid levels below that elite level.”

Ryan wields neither remarkable maneuverability nor a howitzer-like arm. His skills include a capacity to lead and a firm grasp on how the position should be played.

“He commanded the huddle as soon as he got here” in 2008, center Todd McClure said.

During the lockout, it was Ryan who organized player practices.

Dimitroff has afforded Ryan sufficient receivers, signing the likely Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in 2009 and nearly emptying the vault of future draft picks last year to draft Julio Jones. With the longtime Falcon Roddy White, who has had 100 or more receptions in consecutive seasons, they form a menacing threesome that can hand-deliver a quarterback to elite status.

Ryan’s passer rating, according to the N.F.L. formula, surged to . Twice before in a four-year career, he was 11th. A statistical evaluation called . (Last season, he was behind only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.)

Ryan’s lofty ranking comes despite 37 dropped passes by teammates, tied for second most, and excessive breakdowns in pass protection. He has absorbed nearly all of the team’s 73 quarterback hits, tied for fifth highest.

“I love that quarterback,” Gonzalez said after Ryan’s decision to sign a one-year deal for 2012 was announced last weekend. “Matt Ryan was a big part of that.”

Ryan’s acuity was so ripened as a rookie that Coach Mike Smith went to a no-huddle offense in Week 2. Now the tactic is deployed in every game, to varying degrees, and has become Ryan’s calling card.

“He’s been very masterful at it this year,” tackle Tyson Clabo said. “How well he has managed our no-huddle — it’s a lot for one person.”

The Falcons’ no-huddle has multiple purposes: sometimes with the conventional goal of accelerating the pace, other times to moderate it by running down the play clock while hindering situation substitution by the defense.

Ryan, ever modest, nonetheless takes pride in his competence with the no-huddle. At the line of scrimmage, he can summon any of a few dozen plays from a mental file, conveying the selection audibly at home games and with hand signals on the road to combat the din.

“I’ve done a lot better at putting guys in position to make plays,” he said. “It’s rewarding. It’s satisfying.”

Those feel-good sensations would heighten with a victory against the Giants on Sunday. Gonzalez, the team’s elder statesman, said of the playoffs: “Eventually, you’ve got to start performing, get your team wins. It’s not just on him.”

Even the Falcons’ owner, Arthur Blank, does not shy away from Ryan’s current oh-fer. During a speech to a civic group last week, he said, “You judge a quarterback on how he does in the fourth quarter and the postseason.”

The consensus in the locker room holds that Ryan, who has engineered 16 fourth-quarter comebacks in the N.F.L., needs no January or February victories to validate his worth.

“To me, a quarterback is either good or not,” McClure said. “It doesn’t have to be about postseason wins.”

White said, “Matt’s doing a good job of getting us there and getting us an opportunity.”

To running back Michael Turner, the pair of playoff defeats belong in the distant past.

“That was the young Matt,” Turner said. “He’s been on fire the past couple of weeks.”

A lesson culled by Ryan from those losses, in which he completed two of every three throws, is that outcomes often hinge on the execution of three or four plays. The allusion to his turnovers was unmistakable.

“You have to be smart as a quarterback and make plays when they are presented; take what’s there,” he said, hoping that such an approach will keep sports shows off the TVs at home for another week or two.

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Ryan, Abraham Lead Falcons to 41-14 Rout of Jags

Maybe they’ll get it right this season.

With their best effort of an up-and-down season, the Falcons clinched a fourth straight winning record with a 41-14 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night. Matt Ryan had another big game, throwing three touchdown passes in less than three quarters of work, and John Abraham terrorized rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert with 3½ sacks.

“I feel like we’ve hit our stride,” said Roddy White, who had 10 catches for 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

A year ago, the Falcons won the NFC South with a conference-leading 13 wins. But they were one-and-done in the playoffs, blown out at home by the Green Bay Packers in the division round.

The Packers went on to claim the title and haven’t lost since.

Atlanta would like to follow their lead.

“You know, Green Bay did a heck of a job last year peaking at the right time,” White said. “I feel like we haven’t hit our stride. The last two games, we’ve been hitting it.”

Atlanta led 27-0 at halftime and stretched it out to 41-0 before Jacksonville scored on a blocked punt. Going back to the previous week, when the Falcons overcame a 16-point halftime deficit at Carolina, they ripped off 65 points in a row over five quarters.

Now that’s more like it from a team that was projected as a Super Bowl contender but had not quite lived up to expectations.

Atlanta (9-5) strengthened its hold on an NFC wild card and clinched its fourth straight winning season.

Ho hum. This team has much higher goals than finishing above .500.

“I’m glad we’ve been able to accomplish that as an organization and a football team,” coach Mike Smith said. “But believe me, it’s not one of those expectations we really want to talk about. If we’re where we think we are as an organization and a football team, that’s expected each and every year.”

It wasn’t so long ago that nine victories was a big deal. The Falcons went through the first 42 years of their existence without so much as back-to-back winning seasons.

All that changed when Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff took over in 2008.

“I can’t speak to the people who came before, but I know since Thomas and I had the opportunity to be here, we’ve just kind of put our heads down and gone to work,” the coach said. “When you do that, good things usually happen. We are not finished, believe me. Our expectations and internal goals are much higher than having a winning football season.”

This one was over by halftime, Gabbert and the shell-shocked Jaguars (4-10) saddled with a net passing total of minus-1 yard. It got as bad as minus-29 before Jacksonville piled up some meaningless yards on its final two possessions.

Gabbert had one of his worst games in a miserable rookie season, coughing up the ball twice on hits by Abraham. Both fumbles led to Atlanta scores, with defensive tackle Corey Peters scooping up the second one and scooting 13 yards to the end zone early in the third quarter for a touchdown that ended any thought of the Jaguars getting back in the game.

“It wasn’t just me,” said Abraham, who came into the game with only five sacks on the season. “The whole team was able to get to the quarterback.”

Ryan was 19 of 26 for 224 yards and three touchdowns, with a season-high rating of 137.3. Rookie Julio Jones had the other TD on a 29-yard reception, his third score in the past two weeks.

Gabbert was 12 of 22 for 141 yards, also throwing an interception during a truly awful night full of bad decisions when he wasn’t running for his life. He was sacked five times and got most of his yards on an irrelevant final drive, which resulted in Jacksonville’s only offensive touchdown: a 16-yard pass to Chastin West with 59 seconds remaining.

“It wasn’t our best night,” Gabbert said. “We’ve just got to learn from it, take the positives out of it and just get better.”

The injury-riddled Jaguars, playing out the season with an interim coach and a new owner, were coming off their best performance, having scored 41 straight points in a 41-14 victory over Tampa Bay. But, playing for the third time in 11 days, they couldn’t build any momentum for a strong finish.

Shahid Khan must have been wondering why he paid an estimated $760 million to buy the team from original Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver in a deal that was unanimously approved by NFL owners a day earlier.

Michael Turner had a 5-yard touchdown run and Matt Bryant kicked a pair of field goals to account for Atlanta’s other scoring in the 41-point barrage.

“We didn’t execute good against a good team and you saw what happened,” Lewis said. “Nothing really more to it. Things got out of hand way too fast and we weren’t able to recover.


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Falcons Seek Revenge as Rodgers and Packers Return

(Reuters) – The Atlanta Falcons have revenge and Aaron Rodgers on their mind when they face the champion Green Bay Packers Sunday in a rematch of last season’s NFC divisional playoff game.

Packers quarterback Rodgers had the game of his life in last January’s playoff meeting against the NFC’s top-seeded Falcons and, ominously for Atlanta, he returns in top form.

The Packers are one of two teams still undefeated in the 2011 campaign and Rodgers, named most valuable player of last season’s Super Bowl, has already amassed 1,325 passing yards.

In the 48-21 playoff win over Atlanta in the Georgia Dome last season, Rodgers went 31-of-36 for 366 yards, threw three touchdowns and ran in for another score as the Packers ended the Falcons’ Super Bowl dreams.

Atlanta head coach Mike Smith knows that his team cannot afford to give Rodgers time and space to exploit in the way he did, with his superb footwork, last season.

“It’s going to be important for us this week to try to be disruptive and not let (Rodgers) get comfortable in terms of his pocket presence … something that we learned is that he can really make some plays with his feet,” said Smith.

“He was able to have a presence to get away from pressure and get the ball down the field. You watch this guy operate, and I don’t know if there’s a quarterback in the NFL right now that’s playing more efficiently.”

Atlanta strengthened well in the offseason after a 13-3 record in the 2010 campaign but will be somewhat disappointed to only be 2-2 at this stage.

Nonetheless, last week’s 30-28 win at Seattle will have given Smith’s team a timely boost in confidence ahead of the visit from the champion Packers.

“We came out last week and executed really well,” said quarterback Matt Ryan, “We were good on third downs and we put ourselves in good third down situations. We were able to extend those drives. I think that was what was the difference in our start last week.”

Ryan knows that Atlanta cannot afford to turn the ball over like that did in such a costly fashion during their playoff loss to Green Bay when they had four turnovers.

“One of things that we didn’t do well last year was ball security. We turned the football over a couple of times, me specifically, especially in the first half and we put ourselves in a tough spot,” said Ryan.

“It comes down to us protecting the football a little bit better than we did last year and that’ll help us run the football.”

Other Week Five matchups include an AFC East divisional encounter where the New York Jets visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots – always a game with a little extra spice and another repeat from last year’s playoffs.

The Jets won that game 28-21 but New England have the top overall offense in the league and Brady leads the league with 1,553 passing yards.

The undefeated Detroit Lions host the Chicago Bears (2-2) Monday.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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