With Matt Ryan feeling more comfortable guiding the no-huddle offense, the Atlanta Falcons have fared well in close games. Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams are still seeking similar results.
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The Falcons try to win their fourth in a row Sunday and break a five-game road skid to the Rams, who will go for their first five-game single-season home winning streak since 2003.
Ryan, the 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, is calling between 30-32 plays out of the no-huddle this year, up from the 10-12 he called two seasons ago. His comfort in those formations was evident in the team’s last game, a 26-21 victory over Baltimore on Nov. 11.
Running the no-huddle, Ryan helped Atlanta build a 10-point halftime lead, and with the Falcons down by one with 65 seconds left, he capped a winning drive with a 33-yard TD pass to Roddy White with 20 seconds remaining.
The Falcons (7-2), whose three straight victories have come by seven points or fewer, are 22-1 under coach Mike Smith when leading after three quarters.
"We’ve been in these situations before,” Ryan said after throwing a career-high 50 passes for 316 yards and three TDs. "We were confident. Nobody blinked. We just went out there and executed. We only needed three, but we got six."
When the Rams (4-5) needed three points in the final seconds of regulation in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss in San Francisco, Bradford and Steven Jackson set up Josh Brown’s tying 33-yard field goal as time expired. St. Louis, though, failed to pick up a first down in the extra period after it won the coin toss.
"Somehow we’ve got to find that killer instinct,” Bradford said after throwing for 251 yards in the team’s fourth straight road loss. "We have to be able to put teams away when the game is on the line.”
St. Louis is 1-4 in games decided by four points or fewer.
While Atlanta continues its playoff push as it begins a stretch of four of five on the road, the Rams will look to get back on track at the Edward Jones Dome, where they have won four straight following a 14-game skid.
St. Louis’ last single-season five-game home win streak came in 2003, when it went 8-0.
The Rams, who haven’t lost to Atlanta at home since Nov. 29, 1998, will try to slow down a Falcons offense that’s averaging 369.2 yards and 24.7 points – both eighth in the NFL.
St. Louis has made significant strides on defense this season, allowing 47 fewer yards per game than last year.
The Rams’ rush defense, sixth in the league with 97.8 yards a game, has been particularly strong in the past six contests, allowing 79.8.
That could force the Falcons – ranked eighth with 128.0 rushing yards per game – to rely less on Michael Turner, who was held to a season-low 39 yards against the Ravens, and more on their passing attack.
White had 12 catches for 138 yards and two TDs against the Ravens after practicing just once before the game due to a right knee injury. He leads the league with 70 receptions and is second with 934 yards.
White, 66 yards shy of his fourth straight 1,000-yard season, caught three passes for 48 yards and a TD in the teams’ last matchup – a 31-27 Falcons victory Dec. 28, 2008.
While Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola have stepped up with the Rams’ receiving corps decimated by injuries, Jackson remains the most consistent offensive weapon for a St. Louis team that’s tied for 30th with 17.8 points a contest.
Jackson, who’s rushed for 757 yards, is eying the Rams’ first postseason appearance since 2004. St. Louis sits one game behind NFC West-leading Seattle.
"Stick together. Everyone stick together,” he said. "Everyone trust in what we’re trying to get done, what we’re trying to establish here. We have seven games to go."
Atlanta, looking to match last season’s road win total of three, is 6-0 indoors this season, beating New Orleans in its only away game in a domed stadium.
St. Louis won 28-16 in the Falcons’ last visit Dec. 2, 2007.