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Matt Ryan leads Falcons over Packers
Arthur Blank says he still gets nervous when his Atlanta Falcons are in a tight late-game situation.
Fortunately for him, Blank’s team is as chilled as their quarterback’s nickname.
Ryan calmly worked his fourth-quarter magic once again, putting the Falcons into position for a 47-yard Matt Bryant field goal with nine seconds remaining.
“Just another day in the Dome, huh?” a smiling Mike Smith said afterward.
Atlanta’s head coach then laughed, but his club’s penchant for winning in crunch-time is no joke. The Falcons are now 6-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer.
“They have confidence in their ability,” a relieved Blank told FOXSports.com afterward. “That’s the most important thing. They don’t blink.”
Such clutch play has Atlanta (9-2) in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage throughout the postseason. That would give Atlanta the inside track for Super Bowl XLV, especially considering Ryan has a 19-1 record inside the Georgia Dome since becoming a starter in 2008.
“It’s hard to explain in words,” Falcons running back Michael Turner said. “But being at home, you feel comfortable you can do whatever it takes to win.”
The comparisons between Sunday’s triumph and a 26-21 home win over Baltimore earlier this month are eerie. The Falcons trailed the Ravens, 21-20, with 1:05 left before Ryan led the Falcons on an 80-yard scoring drive.
“I jokingly told the offense we gave them just enough time so they could move the ball down the field,” Falcons outside linebacker Mike Peterson said. “We know if we’ve got any chance of us winning a game, we’re going to find a way to win it.”
Or in Green Bay’s case Sunday, find a way to lose.
A 7-4 Packers squad that committed too many errors — including a Rodgers goal-line fumble that Peterson recovered in the end zone — made its final big mistake on special teams. Packers linebacker Matt Wilhelm committed such a blatant face-mask penalty on Falcons returner Eric Weems that five officials threw flags. That 15-yard foul combined with Weems’ 40-yard return gave Atlanta possession at the Green Bay 49-yard line with 56 seconds left.
That’s an eternity for a unit as poised as Atlanta’s offense.
“It’s becoming routine now,” said Turner, who gouged Green Bay’s defense for 110 yards and one touchdown. “We’re going to go down, score and win the game.
“We practice it all the time. It’s nothing new for us.”
Ryan said the good field position let him focus on hitting short sideline routes that allowed the receivers to stop the clock. Ryan nailed four straight passes for 20 yards before tossing a third-down throw out of bounds – his only incompletion in 15 second-half attempts. Packers coach Mike McCarthy tried icing Bryant by calling a timeout before his first field-goal attempt but to no avail. Bryant connected so solidly on his second try that Ryan believes it would have been good from another 10 yards.
“We just needed 20 yards and a couple completions on the outside when you have a kicker like Matt,” Ryan said, making such an effort against what was the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense (14.6 points a game) sound easy. “He’s been clutch for us all year.”
The same goes for Ryan himself thanks to the poise that earned him the Matty Ice moniker.
“I must hide my emotions pretty well,” said Ryan, who completed 24 of 28 passes for 198 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. “I get anxious every week. It doesn’t change. But when you start playing and know you’ve put in a great week of preparation, it allows you to just cut loose and trust in your abilities. I’ve always been of the belief that if you prepare well, you can just go out there and play your game.”
Maintaining that momentum is the next challenge for Ryan and Co. Atlanta plays three straight road games starting with next Sunday’s matchup against NFC South rival Tampa Bay (7-4) before finishing the regular season with two home contests. By that point, the Falcons will know whether they have to leave the comfy confines of the Georgia Dome again.
The Falcons’ win means Atlanta is guaranteed a third straight season above .500, which is a franchise record. But that wasn’t reason for celebration inside the team’s locker room.
“Our goals are much bigger than a winning season, especially this year,” Peterson said.
They should be – even if the Falcons are making their owner sweat far more than he would like.
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