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Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Opposing view: Matt Ryan, Mike Smith

By Kieran Darcy

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Falcons are 11-2, the best record in the NFC and tied with the Texans for the best record in the NFL. But they're rarely mentioned as Super Bowl contenders -- not nearly as often as teams with less glitzy records, like the Giants (8-5).

"That's not something I'm concerned with. I really don't worry about how we're perceived or the media's perception of us," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said Wednesday, on a conference call with New York reporters. "I think we have a locker room where guys are just focused on trying to play well and play our best, week in and week out.

"Anybody can really have their opinion of us. We have our own. We're confident in ourselves and we play that way; we play with a lot of confidence. I think that's what's important to focus on."

Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan has passed for 3,932 yards and 24 TDs this season.
Why are some people down on the Falcons, despite their gaudy record? Maybe it's because they haven't won a playoff game since 2004, including blowout losses against the Packers (49-24) and Giants (24-2) the past two years. Or that seven of their 11 wins this season have been by seven points or less.

Ryan, who has yet to win a playoff game in his five-year NFL career, said Wednesday that revenge is not on his mind, following last season's embarrassing playoff loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

"Last year is done," Ryan said. "Obviously they had a great run last year in the playoffs and were carrying a lot of momentum. I think they're a different football team this year; we're a different football team this year. That's more of where my focus is."

The Falcons are definitely different this year -- much more reliant on the passing game. In 2011, the Falcons were eighth in the NFL in passing yards per game (262.0), and 17th in rushing yards per game (114.6). This season the Falcons are fourth in passing (289.2) and 28th in rushing (86.9).

"There's been a transition in terms of what we have on the offensive side of the ball and we have a lot of guys that really deserve an opportunity to touch the football," said Falcons coach Mike Smith, also on a conference call. "We're very transparent in that we have not run the ball as effectively as we would like to, and as consistently as we'd like to through the first 13 games."

Running back Michael Turner has 689 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, but is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. The strength of this team is Ryan and his top three receivers: wideouts Roddy White (77 catches, 1,140 yards) and Julio Jones (63 catches, 997 yards), and tight end Tony Gonzalez (81 catches, 831 yards).

The Falcons are also the least-penalized team in the NFL. (The Giants are second-best in that category.) And they've won 10 straight games at the Georgia Dome. But they're coming off a 30-20 loss to the 4-9 Carolina Panthers last Sunday.

"We didn't play very well last week against Carolina," Smith said. "We've got to make the corrections like we do when we win football games."

"We played poorly in the first half," Ryan said. "I think if you look around the league, everybody has a half of football where they don't play their best. That's what happened. We need to move on, move forward and I think everybody's done a good job with that and focus on trying to play better this week."