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Falcons In-Season News

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19 hours ago, WhenFalconsWin said:

Needed to be done if only for the league to grade the refs.

I agree because you just can't get away with putting that many late hits on a QB.  Karma is a b1tch though because Seattle will get there's and I hope it comes from our birds.

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2 hours ago, blkbigdog35 said:

I agree because you just can't get away with putting that many late hits on a QB.  Karma is a b1tch though because Seattle will get there's and I hope it comes from our birds.

Would love a rematch in playoffs

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Falcons' Jake Matthews: No intent to injure Michael Bennett

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews said he had no intent to injure Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett with a third-quarter cut block last Sunday.

Bennett, who suffered a knee injury on the play, went on a profanity-laced tirade against Matthews after the game. The Seahawks won the contest, 26-24, although Bennett didn't return to the game.

"If you're big in the NFL, you just line up and play," Bennett told reporters. "Why do you have to cut somebody on the f---ing play?

"That s--- is just stupid. Why cut somebody when you can just line up and win? I mean, I don't know. I don't come off the ball jumping at offensive linemen's legs."

Matthews responded Wednesday.

"That's part of the game," he said. "Obviously I don't have the intention of that. I have too much respect for the game, for the people who play it, to purposely go out and injure someone."

Matthews seemed a little perplexed about the complaint considering how he's always looked up to Bennett.

"I mean, he played at [Texas] A&M with my older brother," Matthews said. "I used to go and watch their games when I was in junior high. I used to cheer for the guy.

"I had no intentions of trying to hurt anybody. I was just doing my job. Sorry he got hurt, but that's not what I'm trying to do. That's not my goal."

Matthews was asked if he planned to reach out to Bennett.

"It's kind of done with," Matthews said. "I can understand ... I'd be pissed off, too, if I got hurt. But like I said, it wasn't my intention."

Bennett's knee injury is not serious, according to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

Dude is acting like a straight punk, smfh!!!!

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Falcons' Mohamed Sanu lobbied for throwback black pants, too

12:01 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons surprised fans Wednesday by announcing that they will wear the throwback 1966 black home jerseys this Sunday against San Diego and again in Week 15 against San Francisco.

Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, one of the models for the uniforms, tried to lobby for black pants to go with the black tops. Instead, the Falcons will go with white pants.

So why was Sanu so caught up with the black pants?

"Because it looks sweet," he said. "We'd look sweet in all black. But the black jersey will suffice for now. They said we couldn't do the black pants, so I just went with what we got."

A new Falcons' logo was introduced during the 2003 season. The all-black uniforms with the new logo were worn between 2003 and 2008. Then the red jerseys became the preferred home jerseys in 2004, while black became the third alternate jersey.

Quarterback Matt Ryan was asked for his thoughts on wearing all black again.

"Mohamed has been all over that, trying to get that going," Ryan said of the all black. "We wore them my rookie year. I'm also a fan of the all black. I like those as well."

The Falcons first wore the '66 throwbacks during the 2009 season, Ryan's second year in the league. They won both games in those uniforms that season: 28-20 over Carolina and 20-17 against Tampa Bay.

We'll see what type of success comes with the throwbacks this time around.

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Julio Jones: Defenses underestimate Matt Ryan's ability to throw deep


Vaughn McClure | 6:39 PM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones obviously has the respect of opponents, which is why he gets double-teamed or even interfered with on occasion.

His quarterback, Matt Ryan, should start getting more respect, too. At least that's how Jones view it in relation to Ryan throwing the deep ball.

"With defenses coming in with Matt, they don't think he's going to throw the ball down the field," Jones said Thursday. "We just have to continue to make them pay. They underestimate us: 'They're not going to throw the ball down the field.' We're making a believer out of a lot of people now that we're going to throw the ball down the field.

"But Matt's been phenomenal this year with the deep ball and getting the ball down the field; hitting his back foot and letting the ball rip. It doesn't matter really what coverage it is down there. He just believes in his guys that's around him. And he's putting the ball up there and giving us a chance, an opportunity to make a play for him."

Ryan and the Falcons, with the No. 1 ranked offense at 441.5 yards per game and second-ranked passing offense at 329.5 yards per game, just have to keep attacking and not fall into a hole, as they did after a hot start last season. Right now, Ryan leads the league with a passer rating of 142.4 on balls thrown 20-plus yards through the air. He's completed 14 of 24 passes from that range for 566 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Now, life is much easier when you have a target such as Jones, who was on the receiving end of the ball Ryan threw 50 yards in the air against Carolina. But Ryan also has completed passes of 30-plus yards through the air to tight end Austin Hooper and speedy receiver Aldrick Robinson.

"Matt's had more [downfield] opportunities, too," said Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons' offensive coordinator. "He's had some different looks. There are a few more guys than just Julio who are doing it, too, which definitely helps. And then when you have some other guys attack, then it gets Julio some better looks down the field.

"I think Matt has worked really hard in improving in that area. He's done a good amount of times throughout his career, too. But I think he's doing it very good right now. And it really opens things up for us."

We'll see if the downfield success continues Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, who are banged up in the secondary but can make teams one-dimensional with the league's fifth-ranked run defense. The Chargers also bring different pressures out of their 3-4 scheme.

"It's hit or miss," Shanahan said. "Sometimes when people don't bring pressure, it's harder to get people open. And when they do bring pressure, you get people open, but it's harder to block. There's a balance offensively and defensively.

"You've got to keep people off-balance. I know they will. They are an aggressive defense, and they are a very good defense. They have a good front seven, a lot of good young players. They're an up-and-coming team. I know they've been banged up in the secondary, but they still have some guys who can do it. When you have a good front seven, that really helps those [defensive backs] out, also."

Ryan, with his league-leading 2,075 passing yards, should be up for the challenge.

"He did a lot of work this offseason on all sorts of different things," tight end Jacob Tamme said of Ryan. "He's definitely got that thing zipping right now."

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Falcons' De'Vondre Campbell on Chargers' tight ends: I don't fear anybody

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker De'Vondre Campbell wouldn't declare himself 100 percent healthy from a left ankle sprain, but feels well enough now to run around in man-to-man coverage, if asked.

Such might be the case this Sunday when San Diego comes to the Georgia Dome. The Chargers have one of the best tight ends ever in the aging Antonio Gates, plus they have a rising young talent in rookie Hunter Henry.

To Campbell, it doesn't matter which one he might encounter.

"I'm always ready for a challenge," Campbell said. "I don't really fear anybody. If my number's called against them, I'm going to be ready for the challenge."

The Falcons drafted the 6-foot-3-inch, 234-pound Campbell, in part, because he has the type of speed and length to cover tight ends. Campbell showed flashes of that ability in the preseason and during a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay. Then he injured his ankle covering rookie tight end Austin Hooper in practice, causing Campbell to miss four consecutive games. He returned last week against Seattle, but played just 21 of 66 defensive snaps while "80 to 85 percent" healthy. Only once did Campbell play Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham in man coverage, and the play didn't come his direction.

"I just wanted to get back out there and get in the swing of things," Campbell said. "I was healthy enough to play. I knew I wasn't going to play a lot. I'm just looking forward to getting back this week and pushing it and seeing where I'm at."

A healthier Campbell gives the Falcons the flexibility to play more man coverage, thus allowing Campbell to cover the likes of Henry and Gates, if needed. Henry has 19 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns, and Gates has 12 catches for 81 yards with two scores after missing a couple games with a hamstring injury.

"I don't personally know Henry, but I was big on college football last year and I heard he was one of the best tight ends coming out," Campbell said. "I know he's having a really good year for them. I know he's a threat. He's a really good player, so you've got to respect him.

"Everybody knows about Gates, man. Definitely for sure Hall of Famer. I just look forward to the challenge of getting to go up against both of them."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Campbell really jumped out in practice Thursday, displaying the speed and length the coaches raved about leading into the season.

Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich sees Campbell maturing as a player daily.

"He has that belief (that he can cover anybody), and I think the really good ones have to have that belief," Ulbrich said. "He's refining his technique, because he came to us with a lot of confidence and a lot of athleticism, but he's still a little bit of a work in progress regarding his technique. The cool thing about is he's so coachable and so moldable. He's so willing to work on it and take coaching and take hard coaching.

"His biggest obstacle, obviously for the last month, has been the injury. I think we're finally starting to see a little bit healthier version of him. Is he 100 percent? I don't know that. But he's definitely getting better. And he's definitely fired up about the opportunity to cover tight ends in this league."


According to ESPN Statistics and Information, the Falcons are allowing an average of 73 yards per game to tight ends along with five touchdowns, which ranks second to last in the league. Keep in mind that figure doesn't reflect man coverage by any means.

"Obviously we play Cover 3 the majority of the time, so it's not like we're in a man world," Ulbrich said. "I know there are some web sites out there and some statistical groups and they throw out numbers based on this and that. Do we have to do better? There's no doubt about it. We've got to do better in our Cover 3 stuff and our man stuff."

Getting Campbell up to speed from a coverage standpoint will only help the Falcons moving forward. NFC South foe Tampa Bay is coming up in a couple weeks, and two different Buccaneers' tight ends scored touchdowns in the season opener. (Austin Seferian-Jenkins is no longer with the team.) Carolina'sGreg Olsen and New Orleans' Coby Fleener are on the schedule later in the season, and each scored touchdowns against the Falcons the first go-around.Travis Kelce of Kansas City could be a tough challenge as well in Week 13.


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Falcons' Jalen Collins: I owe my teammates one

1:30 AM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The pressure Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins feels going into his 2016 debut Sunday has nothing to do with being last year's second-round draft pick. 

It has everything to do with Collins wanting to make amends for the misstep that led to him being away from the team to begin the season. The second-year player from LSU was suspended for the first four games after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Collins was then inactive the past two weeks as the coaches elected to stick with the same group of special-teamers. He'll play Sunday against the visiting San Diego Chargers, with reserve cornerback/special-teamer C.J. Goodwin ruled out as a result of a hamstring injury.

"The only pressure for me is for me to go out there and perform for my team," Collins said. "I owe it to them guys. I made a mistake, and I just have to go out there and get back to it."

Collins never disclosed what substance led to the suspension. He trained at a local gym before being reinstated.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn commended Collins for taking ownership of the mistake and expressing an obligation to his teammates.

"I love that he has that mindset," Quinn said. "Like he's so committed to his brothers on the team. ... 'Man, I want to show I want to help.' The first way he's helped is over the last few weeks of going for it in practice, standing up battling for it. I knew he was ready. He looked fit coming in.

"Sometimes when you're guy that's got something to prove, that could be a dangerous person."

Collins, who struggled as a rookie last season while starting two games, will fill a role outside as a gunner on special teams Sunday. He seems unlikely to get much time on defense unless starting cornerback Robert Alford continues to have issues with penalties. Collins has yet to display the type of consistency and ball skills that made him a higher draft pick and even, in some eyes, a first-round talent.

"He’ll stay mostly outside, but the times that we match that’s when you see the other guys go inside," Quinn said of Collins' role on defense. "You’ve seenDesmond Trufant and Robert Alford inside, so on times that we’ve matched some people you would see Jalen inside, but we’d like to keep him outside."

Collins didn't sound too consumed about what role he'll play.

"Those guys [Trufant, Alford and nickel back Brian Poole] have been doing a great job," Collins said. "As far as me, I'm just grateful to be back. Whatever they need me to do, I'm going to do it. I've just got to come back ready."

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Falcons not looking back or thinking ahead, either

Vaughn McClure
ESPN Staff Writer
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are tired of hearing about last year. At the same time, they're not foolish enough to think they've accomplish anything yet this season.

Yes, the Falcons are 4-2 and atop the NFC South going into Sunday afternoon's game against the San Diego Chargers (2-4). And yes, reigning division champ Carolina (1-5) is reeling right now while in the midst of a four-game losing streak. But although the Falcons have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule, they don't feel like the path to the playoffs is a given now.

"It's the NFL and every week, it's up for grabs," said Tyson Jackson, the veteran defensive lineman. "It doesn't matter if you have a winning record or a losing record. You go into a Sunday and it's fair game. That's why every week, you have to prepare like you're going to play the world champions. That's just the way it is."

Including San Diego, the combined record of the Falcons' final 10 opponents is 24-32. Three of those teams are in last place in their respective divisions: the Panthers, Chargers and 49ers (1-5). And three of the four teams left on the schedule that made the playoffs last year -- the Packers (4-2), Cardinals (3-3) and Chiefs (3-2) -- all come to the Georgia Dome. The Falcons play six of the last 10 games at home, a nice consolation after the Falcons split back-to-back road games against recent Super Bowl champs Denver and Seattle.

According to ESPN Stats & Info's Football Power Index, the Falcons were favorites in just one of their first six games but will be favorites in eight of their final 10 games.

So they're in good position to break a three-year playoff hiatus, right?

"Yeah, but when you look at it with the Seattle game last week, we had that game in our grasp and it didn't pan out the way we wanted it to," Jackson said. "You can't get comfortable. At the same time, you can't get discouraged when you lose because if you focus too much on the loss, you'll end up losing the next one. You have that window where you look at the game, review it, then it's on to the next one."

The Falcons are totally focused on slowing down the Chargers and their veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who can sling it all over the field and score points with the best of them. Although Falcons coach Dan Quinn knows winning the NFC South is the fastest route to the postseason, he always emphasizes focusing on the next opponent. In other words, the chance to avenge a season-opening loss to the Buccaneers coming up Week 9 in Tampa is the last thing on Quinn's mind.

"We just try to focus on what we're doing and knowing we've got a huge challenge ahead," Quinn said. "We don't try to look at the other clubs and try to compare. To me, competing and comparing are a lot different. We're going to see how much better we can get this week, how much we can compete to get better, and then looking forward to this game.

"As far as looking at the division without it being a division game, I really don't look much at it. When it's those division games, that's when it gets ramped up for me."

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Expect a heavy dose of Chargers RB Melvin Gordon vs. Falcons

  • Eric D. WilliamsESPN Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- The San Diego Chargers designed their running game going into the season to be a three-headed monster, with the hot hand taking a lion’s share of the carries.

But as the 2-4 Chargers head into an important matchup against the 4-2 Atlanta Falcons, Melvin Gordon is the only healthy running back left to carry the load.

And so far, that’s what the second-year pro has done.

Gordon has 130 touches through six games, which is No. 6 in the NFL. With seven total touchdowns, Gordon’s tied for second in the NFL with LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills and just behind David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals, who leads the league with eight scores.

Because of season-ending injuries to Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver, Gordon has been in the game more on third down and in the red zone.

Those situations have provided learning opportunities for Gordon to get better as a pass-catcher and in pass protection. And they’ve also meant more chances to get into the end zone.

Gordon’s averaging 45 plays a game this season, compared to 27 plays a game last year.

“When Danny went down, [Gordon] was in my office the next day like, 'OK, let’s start talking about that third-down stuff,’” Chargers running backs coach Ollie Wilson said. “So he started really studying and putting it down. And for the most part, he’s been fine.

“He’s always going to get help from Philip [Rivers]. That’s just the way he does things. But there’s some times where things change up and he absolutely has to know what’s going on, and for the most part he’s been really good.”

The Chargers need Gordon’s production facing Atlanta’s top-ranked offense at the Georgia Dome. In the Falcons' two losses this season -- to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks -- Atlanta’s defense gave up an average of 133 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns to running backs.

That means Gordon should have some opportunities for big plays against the second level of Atlanta’s defense, both as a runner and in the passing game.

“He’s doing things that probably early we hadn’t counted on him doing,” Wilson said. “Yet I think in the long run, keeping him in the game, keeping him in the flow of what’s going on with the fronts and everything, I think he’s getting better.”

Here are five other things to watch for with the Chargers as they look for their first two-game winning streak since the 2014 season.

Disguise and pressure: While Atlanta has created explosive plays on offense, averaging a league-leading 33.2 points a game, quarterback Matt Ryan has been sacked 15 times this year, tied for No. 4 in the NFL. If San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano can muddy the picture for Ryan pre-snap, he has a chance to create pass rush and get home with four rushers, giving the Chargers more opportunities to get off the field on third down.

No run after the catch: The Falcons lead the league in yards after the catch with 1,001, so it will be important for San Diego’s second- and third-level defenders to get Atlanta’s receivers on the ground and limit explosive plays.

Control tempo: San Diego’s offense held the ball over 33 minutes in a win over the Denver Broncos last week, basically icing that team’s offense. The Chargers could be successful using a similar approach against Atlanta’s high-powered offense by playing keep away and putting points on the board.

Take care of the football: The Chargers have turned the ball over seven times on the road this season, the second-most in the NFL. Aside from the Jaguars, San Diego has not beaten a team on the road since an overtime win at Levi’s Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the 2014 season. San Diego cannot give an explosive offense like Atlanta's extra opportunities to put points on the board.

Finish: Young players such as Jatavis Brown and Hunter Henry made plays when they needed to at the end of the game to bring San Diego a victory last week. The Chargers need to play with a similar belief and confidence at the end of the game against the Falcons to come away with a win.


I don't seeing the chargers doing this against us!!

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Loss reveals Falcons' defense still needs a major facelift


Tim McManus | 7:46 PM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Everyone will focus on the fourth-and-1 play in overtime the Atlanta Falcons failed to convert, the one where running back Devonta Freeman was dropped for a 1-yard loss by San Diego Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman.

But the Falcons' problems in Sunday's 33-30 overtime loss were much bigger than one play.

The game shouldn't have even lasted beyond regulation, and not because Matt Bryant's 58-yard field goal fell just short. The defense was the Falcons' downfall, and it needs major fixing moving forward.

The Falcons allowed Philip Rivers, the Chargers' savvy veteran quarterback, to throw the ball all over the field and rally his team from a 27-10 second-quarter deficit. There were too many holes in the zone and too many missed tackles when the Falcons needed to bring a runner down.

In all, the Falcons surrendered 426 yards. They allowed Rivers to pass for 371 yards and a touchdown. And Chargers receivers gained many more yards after the catch.

The four sacks the Falcons had -- including one by Vic Beasley Jr. that led to a fumble, which Adrian Clayborn picked up to score touchdown -- didn't even matter in the end.

Blame in on youth, if you will. The Falcons started three rookies: linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell and safety Keanu Neal. In fact, Jones was on the short end of one of the backbreaking plays late in the game, when Chargers running back Melvin Gordon bounced off him to keep a scoring drive going.

Dan Quinn is a defensive-minded coach, so surely the performance by his defense has to be offensive. And there's not much time correct matters with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers coming to the Georgia Dome next week and Carson Palmer and the Cardinals a few weeks away.

The Falcons are now 4-3. Although they are still atop the NFC South, they don't have as much cushion after this loss.

Of course, the offense had its issues, too. Matt Ryan threw an interception that led to a late score. There were too many pre-snap penalties and too much pressure allowed on Ryan. And, again, the fourth-down gamble backfired.

But if the Falcons continue to falter on defense and give up explosive plays, this season could implode just like last year.

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Dan Quinn defends fourth-and-1 OT call: 'Just a gut feeling I went with'


Michael DiRocco | 10:59 PM ET


ATLANTA -- Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he went with his gut on a crucial fourth-and-1 play from his own 45 in Sunday's 33-30 overtime loss to the Chargers. The play resulted in a 1-yard loss for running back Devonta Freeman and set up San Diego's game-winning field goal.

"Honestly, I had a real belief we were going to make it and just keep the drive going and keep extending it," Quinn said. "Just a gut feeling that I went with. It didn't work. We can second-guess. That's easy to do, but it was more a mindset. I had such a belief in the guys to go get aggressive and get that half a yard that we needed. So when we didn't, that was a costly mistake.''

Quinn said the success of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and the offense did not factor in his decision not to allow his defense back on the field. The Falcons surrendered 426 total yards and allowed Rivers to throw for 371 yards.

"That didn't have a factor on it in that particular time," Quinn said. "It was really just a factor of, 'I think we're going to get it and this drive is going to keep going, and we're going to finish with some points at the end of it.'"

The Falcons won the coin toss and received the ball first in overtime. Quinn was asked why he settled on the outside zone run play on fourth down against a tough Chargers defense, which came into the game ranked fifth in defending the run. Linebacker Denzel Perryman was the one who dropped Freeman for a loss.

Perryman, who knows Freeman from their high school playing days in Miami, was confident about making the big stop.

"Honestly, it was instincts," he said. "It was fourth-and-1. They were successful running the ball today and were able to stop them a couple of times. But it was fourth-and-1, so it was no-brainer that they were going to run the ball. The defensive line did their job, and I did my job. All 11 did their job. I made the play. So, I give credit to the whole defense. It wasn't just me."

Freeman defended his coach's play call.

"Coach Dan, he's aggressive," Freeman said. "We're aggressive. That's what we do. If we get in a situation like that next game, we're going to do the same thing."

Added Quinn: "I just thought we had a good shot. We had a good look at a good run on that one. We didn't execute like we can. We had the look there and what we wanted, and we liked the call. We just didn't execute it, and they did.

"It wasn't a matter of if we had a different one. Obviously in those times, you can throw it. We just thought, 'Hey, here's a chance for us. Let's get behind the line.' They made a good play, too. I've got to give them credit as well."

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Falcons add RBs Stevan Ridley, Terron Ward to help fill void in backfield

5:33 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons, who saw running back Tevin Coleman go down with a hamstring strain last Sunday, added two running backs to the 53-man roster Tuesday in veteran Stevan Ridley and practice-squad player Terron Ward.

Coach Dan Quinn did not announce an immediate timetable for Coleman's return, but ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Coleman is unlikely to play against the Green Bay Packers this week.

"We just have to find out the severity of it and find out when his strength can get back,'' Quinn said of Coleman's strain. ``Let's face it: He is a guy who can haul. He'll need to have full strength for him to do what he does.''

Coleman leads the Falcons with six touchdowns and has 564 combined yards. His absence should mean a heavier workload for starter Devonta Freeman, the league's eighth-leading rusher with 508 yards on 105 carries.

Ridley, a former second-round draft pick of the New England Patriots who rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012, is known as more of a straight-line runner with power. He provides another body for added insurance behind Freeman. Ward played in 13 games for the Falcons last season as an undrafted rookie from Oregon State. He knows the offense and can contribute on special teams, if needed.

To make room for Ridley and Ward, the Falcons released veteran linebacker and former Packer A.J. Hawk along with last year's starting center, Mike Person. The team also signed running back Jhurell Pressley to the practice squad to fill the void left by Ward.

The Falcons are 4-3 and have lost two in a row heading into Sunday's home matchup with Aaron Rodgers and the 4-1 Packers.

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Potential trade targets for every NFL team



Atlanta Falcons

Cornerback Robert Alford

I'm not saying this will happen, but I've been told by front-office guys around the league that Alford is a player worth inquiring about. The Falcons have to pay their top cornerback, Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant, somewhere in the range of $11-14 million per year eventually. And Alford, as the No. 2 guy, won't just settle for nothing before hitting free agency this offseason. So it might benefit the Falcons to see what his value is before he just walks. Despite drawing his share of penalties because of hand usage, Alford is a freak athlete with great speed. The Falcons might have a backup plan at corner already with C.J. Goodwin still a work in progress. -- Vaughn McClure

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Devonta Freeman can handle full load, if hip fully healthy

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons obviously know Devonta Freeman is capable of being a workhorse, when fully healthy.

The running back first showed it during the third game of last year's Pro Bowl season, when Freeman carried the ball a career-high 30 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns in a 39-28 win at Dallas. In fact, the Falcons were 4-1 last season when Freeman had 25 or more carries in a game.

Fast-forward to this year and the Falcons might find themselves in a similar-type workhorse situation. Tevin Coleman, the guy sharing carries with Freeman, suffered a hamstring strain in last Sunday's overtime loss to the Chargers. Coleman is unlikely to play against the Packers this Sunday, although coach Dan Quinn refused to rule him out or put a timetable on Coleman's return.

Freeman, who was in a black non-contact jersey himself Wednesday while limited with a hip injury, is ready to carry the full load, provided his hip allows him to do so.

"Free is totally capable of handing the workload," Quinn said. "He showed that in the (Chargers) game. And he showed that before."

Freeman was asked if he feels less wear and tear on his body this season while sharing carries with Coleman. After seven games, Freeman leads the team and his eighth in the NFL with 508 rushing yards on 105 attempts with two touchdowns. Coleman has supplemented him with 234 yards on 59 carries with five touchdowns.

"I never feel like it's wear and tear on me," Freeman said. "I feel like that's just something that the media puts out. If you're working, you've got wear and tear on you every single day. If you're riding a bicycle, if you're walking up and down the stairs, you're going to get wear and tear on you. I feel like it doesn't matter about wear and tear."

Expect Freeman to be ready come Sunday even if his practice reps are limited this week. The Falcons signed veteran Stevan Ridley and also promoted Teron Ward from the practice squad for added insurance at the position.

We've always been impressed by the size," Quinn said of the 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound Ridley. "In the workout yesterday, he caught the ball well, ran it well. And in our walkthrough today. He's been busy at work with coach (Bobby) Turner getting the system down and understanding the details of it. It's a very good group at running back, and they're certainly going to look out for him and help get up to speed, too."

But it all comes back to Freeman, a back capable of beating you both in the run game and as a receiver. He stands third on the team with 23 receptions.

The Falcons will need Freeman at the top of his game against a stout Packers defense, which ranks No. 1 in the league against the run. Green Bay allows just 71.8 yards per game. Quinn praised the Packers ability to set the edge with their outside linebackers.

"I feel like we just have to go out there and execute our play calls," Freeman said. "They're a great defense. I feel like we're a great offense. It's going to be another tough one, another good game, another challenge like always."

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Packers praying for help to slow Julio Jones

  • 0ap1000000236552.jpg
  • By Kevin Patra
  • Around the NFL writer
  • Published: Oct. 27, 2016 at 09:53 a.m.
  • Updated: Oct. 27, 2016 at 04:28 p.m.



The last time Julio Jones faced the Green Bay Packers, in 2014, he set an Atlanta Falcons record with 259 receiving yards. He's already broken that mark this year with his 300-yard performance in Week 4.

The NFL's leading receiver (830 yards) faces an injured Packers secondary Sunday afternoon in Atlanta. Green Bay is seeking some divine intervention to slow down Jones.

"The week of (the game), every night before you go to bed, you've got to pray," defensive back Micah Hyde said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Game day, you've got to wake up, you've got to pray. He's just one of those guys that can get it done in all aspects of the game.


"Honestly, there's nothing he can't do. There's guys that come along every now and then, you've got your Calvin Johnson-type guys, and he's one of them. He's the best in the game right now."

Jones' stats have been eye-popping to start the season. He has 100-plus receiving yards in four of his last six games (including the last two). Jones has 16 receptions of 20-plus yards this season (most in NFL). He has more receiving yards than Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb combined (709).

Jones is on pace for 1,897 receiving yards this season, just shy of Calvin Johnson's single-season record of 1,964. With 170 receiving yards versus Green Bay, he would be the first player with 1,000-plus receiving yards through 8 games since 1961 (Charley Hennigan: 1,122 receiving yards).

Oh, and he's putting up these ridiculous-pace numbers with outings of 16 yards and 29 yards thrown in (both Falconswins).

The Packers' defense has allowed 101.0 receiving yards per game to opponent's No. 1 wide receivers this season (31st in NFL). Even healthy, Green Bay's secondary would need help from the big man upstairs. They won't be healthy. Sam Shields is on IR, Damarious Randall underwent groin surgery, and Quinten Rollins is also expected to be out with a groin injury.


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Falcons' Dan Quinn not thinking about trades right now

12:49 AM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With Tuesday's NFL trade deadline looming, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn seems content with his roster as is.

"I feel like we have a very competitive group," Quinn said Friday. "So, for us, we love the guys we have. Fortunately for us, the thing that I'm excited [about] -- you guys know this, but I don't get a chance to talk about it enough -- is our practice squad. I feel like this is a group in waiting that we've got some guys that are anxious to go. We've moved some of them up already [running back Terron Ward and safety Sharrod Neasman]. ... There's a number of guys, if called upon, would be ready. That's why maybe I feel like I love the depth that we have with some of the guys. We're already developing some guys right through it. That's the preferred way."

Quinn was asked if trades might nevertheless be considered. A reporter joked about being a blown away by a deal for a player such as a Lawrence Taylor.

"He was definitely my favorite player growing up," Quinn said of Taylor. "If we went back in time and coach [Bill] Parcells called, that would have been one we would have definitely listen to."

Kidding aside, Quinn said making a trade is not at the forefront of his thoughts as he prepares his 4-3 Falcons to face Aaron Rodgers and the 4-2 Packers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

"I would say you can definitely focus your attention on the game," Quinn said.

One has to wonder if the Falcons might change their trade thoughts if the quadriceps tear suffered by veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney ends up being a significant injury. Freeney is questionable for Sunday.

The other aspect to consider is whether the Falcons might unload a player in exchange for a draft pick. One guy who comes to mind is cornerback Jalen Collins, a 2015 second-round pick who hasn't panned out. The problem is, personnel folks around the league say the film out on Collins isn't impressive, so interest is unlikely to be significant.

The Falcons' most recent trade outside of the draft was acquiring veteran left guard Andy Levitre last September in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft -- the Titans used the pick to draft guard Sebastian Tretola -- and a conditional 2017 selection.

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Calls could go in Julio Jones' favor with Sunday's officials

8:06 AM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn is well aware of the background of Sunday's officiating crew.

Quinn watched star receiver Julio Jones not get the benefit of the doubt on two crucial pass plays that appeared to be defensive fouls in back-to-back losses to Seattle and San Diego. When the Falcons face the Packers at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, they'll have official Walt Anderson and his crew, which has blown the most whistles (16) for defensive pass interference this season. ESPN national NFL writer Kevin Seifert broke down the numbers.

Quinn, who had a discussion with NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino after Jones was interfered with but drew no call against Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, offered his thoughts on having Anderson and company for Sunday's game.

"I am aware of that," Quinn said with a smile while discussing the crew's tendency for pass interference calls. "Good news is, both ways they're leading the league, I believe: OPI (offensive pass interference) and DPI. We'll be anxious to watch. But yes, I also saw that. And the team is aware of that."

Jones obviously wasn't pleased with the officiating the last few weeks. He showed his frustration on the field at the time of the calls but didn't go overboard on game day to show up the officials or while addressing the issuewith the media.

"That's not his nature anyway," Quinn said of Jones. "That's not this guy's style. You know that. It's not our style, either, as a team. He's going to have plenty of more (opportunities) as we're going down this road. ... We're going to throw it to him a bunch more, too."

Jones leads the league with 830 yards despite not having a catch in the red zonethis season. He'll be up against a banged-up Packers' secondary, one likely to send safeties over to help the cornerbacks defend Jones.

Officials have flagged Green Bay five times for defensive pass interference and twice for defensive holding this season.

On the flipside, the Falcons have to be cautious not to draw penalties while defending the Packers' receivers. Remember, cornerback Robert Alford has had issues with such calls this season, being flagged five times for defensive pass interference and once for illegal use of hands.

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Matty Ice emerges to lead Falcons to comeback win over Packers


Vaughn McClure | 10:01 PM ET


ATLANTA -- Matt Ryan insists the Atlanta Falcons were mentally tougher than they were last season.

The veteran quarterback went out and showed it Sunday.

Ryan completed 9 of 11 passes for 75 yards on a game-winning drive that ended with his 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu down the seam. Sanu was mismatched against linebacker Jake Ryan. It marked Matt Ryan's 34th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, giving the Falcons a 33-32 win over the Green Bay Packers.

"They don't call the guy `Matty Ice' for no reason," Sanu said of his quarterback. "The guy's got ice in his veins. He just goes out there and just executes, man."

The Falcons sorely needed this one after losing the previous two weeks to the Seattle Seahawks (26-24) and San Diego Chargers (33-30 in overtime). Now at 5-3 and leading the NFC South, they have a little momentum going into a crucial division matchup with the Buccaneers (3-4) Thursday night in Tampa.

After the San Diego loss, Falcons coach Dan Quinn showed his team a tape of boxer Marvin Hagler winning a championship bout after losing the first matchup by decision. The point of the clip was to emphasize not letting someone else decide the outcome for you.

Ryan obviously took the message to heart. He threw a pass the perfect height to Sanu with Julio Jones drawing double coverage, as usual

"When you feel his demeanor on the sideline, when there's a timeout and he comes over and he has that locked-in look in his eyes, he's ready to go," Quinn said of Ryan's demeanor. "His teammates respond to him because of his toughness and his attitude that he display for them all the time.

"These guys are a very tight group. They just love playing football for one another. It shows in the locker room and it shows on the practice field."

Ryan, touted as the MVP frontrunner after guiding the Falcons to a four-game winning streak, finished Sunday's completing 28 of 35 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns and a passer rating for 129.5. He did all that with the league's most dangerous threat, Jones, catching just three passes for 29 yards, all in the first half. Sanu, one of the team's big offseason acquisitions, picked up the slack with nine catches (10 targets) for 84 yards. The Falcons will need Sanu to continue to play that way to alleviate some of the pressure off Jones the remainder of the season.

"That's what he's brought to this team: He's a big body and excellent in the red zone," Ryan said of Sanu. "I thought he did a great job all day."

The defensive issues the Falcons had against Aaron Rodgers and a depleted Packers offense -- they surrendered five plays of 20-plus yards despite an inspired, two-sack performance by Adrian Clayborn and another sack for Vic Beasley Jr. -- emphasized how Atlanta has to win with its offense. Ryan said prior to the season the Falcons have the ability to average 30 points per game. Right now, the Falcons are averaging 32.8. They'll need to keep up that pace to close out the second half of the schedule and make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

More than anything, the Falcons have to show poise in tight situations. The poise Ryan showed set an example for his teammates.

"For me, the longer I've played, the more I understand that you never know how a game is going to shake out," Ryan said. "Getting up or down or out of your normal concentration doesn't help, so I try to remain that way all the time -- very calm and focused on getting that next completion, getting the next first down.

"The message I give to the guys before we go out is in that situation, don't worry about the touchdown play. Let's get the first down and get the sticks moving. I thought we did a great job of that."

The quick turnaround to a Thursday game against a Buccaneers team the Falcons already lost to in the season opener (31-24) won't make things any easier, especially with it coming on the road. The Falcons then play at Philadelphia before a much-needed bye week that is followed by home matchups with Kansas City (5-2) and Arizona (3-4).

Let's see if the Falcons have finally figured out how to finish. They sure did Sunday.

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Tevin Coleman (hamstring) out for Falcons vs. Bucs

  • 0ap1000000236552.jpg
  • By Kevin Patra
  • Around the NFL writer
  • Published: Nov. 2, 2016 at 01:14 p.m.
  • Updated: Nov. 2, 2016 at 03:45 p.m.

The Atlanta Falcons' backfield will once again be without Tevin Coleman.


The dynamic running back was ruled out of Thursday night's tilt with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with defensive end Dwight Freeney (quad) and tight end Jacob Tamme (shoulder).

Coleman injured his hamstring in Week 7 and missed Sunday's win over the Green Bay Packers. He has yet to return to practice.

Coleman's explosiveness in the backfield and pass-catching ability helped form the NFL's top one-two punch with Devonta Freeman. With a two-win lead in the NFC South, the Falcons won't jeopardize Coleman's long-term health by rushing him back until his hamstring is fully ready for action. Terron Ward will spell Freeman for spurts until Coleman returns.

Freeney and Tamme both left Week 8's win and won't be ready for the quick turnaround.

Thursday night's clash will air exclusively on NFL Network.

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Even with a little cushion, Falcons not overlooking NFC South

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. -- Of course it feels good to be in first place in the NFC South. Julio Jones wouldn't have it any other way through nine games.

However, the Atlanta Falcons' star wide receiver knows having a 6-3 record and being the only team in the division with a winning record still doesn't mean much now. Anything can happen over the course of the final seven games that could shift the balance of power.

That's why Jones, while not looking ahead, has no problem looking around to see what else is unfolding.

"Yeah, we're in a good place, but New Orleans, they're making noise over there,'' Jones said. "Carolina is, too. They just beat a great Cardinals team that we're going to have to play. And New Orleans just beat the Seattle Seahawks, that we lost to in Seattle.

"You definitely have to be aware of those teams. But it's still one game at a time. Right now, it's on to Philadelphia."

Jones hopes his team has re-established some momentum with a two-game winning streak after consecutive close losses. The offense continues to show its diversity, with many players making impacts outside of Jones. Quarterback Matt Ryan continues to play at an MVP pace. And the defense is starting to create turnovers and get sacks (21 for the season, two more than all of last year), which is the exactly the attacking style coach Dan Quinn has preached since Day 1.

Regardless of how promising the outlook appears to be right now, there's no time to relax. The Falcons haven't made the playoffs in the last three seasons. There's simply no reason for them to feel too comfortable.

"You can't get complacent about having breathing room," Jones said. "Every game is important. We can't take anything lightly. Even though we might be leading our division right now, we just have to stay focused and play football the way we know how to play football."

The Falcons should have a little more confidence now after beating Tampa Bay 43-28 on Thursday night. The Buccaneers were the only division team that beat the Falcons in the first half of the season.

"We knew going in as a division game, this was for sure going to be a battle, and it was," coach Dan Quinn said. "As we get ready, we're on to the next one when we get back.

"As far as looking too far ahead, one of the things that I do like about our team is we're able to stay in the present moment and focus on the team that is at hand. I think sometimes when you can look too far ahead, that can jam you up."

It's only natural for outsiders to project how this might all unfold for the Falcons. Right now, they are No. 3 in the NFC behind the Dallas Cowboys (6-1) and Minnesota Vikings (5-2), with the Vikings coming off a terrible loss to the Bears. Three of the seven teams remaining on the Falcons' schedule -- Carolina (2-5), Arizona (3-4) and Kansas City (5-2) -- were playoff teams a year ago. The back-to-back games against the Cardinals and Chiefs in Weeks 12 and 13 are both at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons' next division game is not until Week 16 on the road against the Panthers. Atlanta closes the season with a NFC South back-to-back against Carolina and New Orleans.

"It's a good division," cornerback Robert Alford said. "You can never go into a game and underestimate your opponent. It's still kind of early of the season, so we still have to finish this thing off."

First and foremost comes next Sunday's game at Philadelphia, with the Eagles and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz currently 4-3.

"They were rolling at one point," Jones said. "I don't know what they're doing now. We'll just have to see."

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1 hour ago, WhenFalconsWin said:

Man I hope he can comeback after this 10 layoff

The running game has been more explosive with him in it this year!!

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Dan Quinn may have fixed what ailed Falcons last season


By Jeff Schultz - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  


This was after last season — after the collapse, after the fizzled new offense and series of social media assaults on Kyle Shanahan, after, of course, more second-guessing of Thomas Dimitroff.

Dan Quinn, the newbie head coach, sat in his office and wondered what went wrong.

“I wanted so bad for it to happen overnight,” he said. “The toughness, the resilience, being so good on the ball — I wanted it right away. When it didn’t happen, I was totally bummed out.”

So he sat there and reflected on how a team that started 6-1 could slide to a 2-7 finish. He wondered about changes that needed to be implemented in the offseason. That’s when he overheard a conversation between two of his players in the hallway outside of his office at the team headquarters. It was like the sound of two cymbals crashing in Quinn’s head.

“One player was leaving the building and he said to the other guy, ‘Hey man, give me your number,’” the coach recalled. “I knew who they were. I knew they were in the same position group. But they weren’t hanging out, they weren’t going to each other’s houses to watch tape, they weren’t group texting each other, ‘Hey, did you see this play? Did you watch 46?’ They didn’t even have each other’s numbers. How could they be in the same position group and not have each other’s numbers? It was at that point I realized, we’ve got work to do.”

The fact more Falcons’ players presumably have each other’s phone number this season is not the sole reason they’re 6-3 and trending upward. Nor does it ensure they won’t flame out again. This is Atlanta: We are predisposed to assume the worst.

But there may be something to this whole Falcons’ “Brotherhood” thing that Quinn put on shirts and the bond the players built in the offseason. Among the changes Quinn orchestrated was a major renovation of the locker room at the practice facility, which eliminated the center bank of lockers and effectively opened up the room, giving it a lounge feel. Added were comfortable leather chairs, flat-screen televisions, ping pong tables and a team logo embedded in the carpet in the middle of the room that nobody is allowed to step on.

It’s like the players’ own private man cave.

Players also got together for workouts in Florida before OTAs, led by quarterback Matt Ryan. Quinn also sought to develop mental toughness and team bonding with other events, most notably bringing in a team of Navy SEALs.

When players are asked why they believe this team won’t collapse like a year ago, the answer is always the same: They feel closer as a team and the accountability to each other wasn’t as strong in 2015.

This season hasn’t been perfect. The Falcons played poorly in the season opening loss to Tampa Bay. They collapsed after blowing a 27-10 lead over San Diego at home, losing 33-30 in overtime. But unlike a year ago, those cracks haven’t widened. They followed the Tampa Bay game with four straight wins. They have followed the San Diego game with wins over Green Bay and the Buccaneers.

“There are things that have happened already this year that I’m not sure would’ve happened a year ago,” Quinn said. “We got smoked in the first half at Seattle but we battled back and had a chance to win the game. Although we lost the game, and I don’t believe in moral victories, I do believe we gained some toughness that day. We were down, we looked bad and we stood up and fought.”

The offense obviously has flowed much better, with the formerly maligned Shanahan and the admittedly struggling Ryan now looking like they’re in sync. The Falcons lead the NFL in total offense, passing and points per game. Ryan is a legitimate MVP candidate, leading the league in passing, has 23 touchdown passes against only four interceptions, ranks second only to Tom Brady in efficiency rating and has thrown TD passes to 11 different receivers.

Defensively, the Falcons still rank near the bottom of many categories, including average yards allowed and points against. But that appears to be more the residual of youth than scheme or coaching. Even when opponents complete passes, there are more defenders around the play and rallying to the ball than before. There also are fewer mistackles.

Quinn: “I think our team has an understanding of our identity. I don’t think we got that all of last year. Knowing the balance on offense, the toughness, the resiliency, the player-to-player accountability, the ball-hawking mindset. Our team understands that a lot better now. I think we have a much clearer understanding of our vision now.”

Dimitroff, the general manager who was the recipient of a new three-year contract extension this week, believes this year’s Falcons are “hungrier and a more focused and directed team.”

Ultimately, they’ll be judged on the second half of the season and (potentially) the playoffs. The Falcons also were 6-3 at this point a year ago but they were coming off miserable losses to Tampa Bay and San Francisco.This week, the arrow is pointing up.

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The psychology behind Matt Ryan's breakthrough


Kevin Seifert | 8:15 AM ET


THERE'S A REVEALING moment in Steve Young's new autobiography, "QB: My Life Behind the Spiral," that made me think of Matt Ryan. During the 1991 season, Young's first year as a starter with the San Francisco 49ers, the quarterback visited Bill Walsh. Young needed help. A few days earlier, after a bad loss to the Raiders, he'd sat in his parked car for hours, crippled by the pressure of replacing Joe Montana. Young called friends for support, and then, at 3 a.m., having run out of people to call, he cried alone.

Now, in the office of the retired head coach who had believed in him more than anyone, Young hung his head, expecting a measure of empathy. Instead, Walsh scolded him.

"All you do is take the blame!" Walsh said.

"What am I supposed to say?" Young said, incredulously. "It's not my fault?"

After all, Young believed like an article of faith that a quarterback was only as great as his willingness to be weighed down. To account for the chaos of 21 bodies flying around on each play and unfailingly rise above, to be superhuman and immortal and, not for nothing, make it look easy. But Walsh was telling Young that he was wrong.

"There's such a thing as being over-accountable," Walsh said. It was conflicting and counterintuitive, but it made sense. Young needed to learn the hardest lesson for any good quarterback striving to be great: He needed to learn how to let go.

OK, SO WHAT does that have to do with Matt Ryan? Well, Ryan said something over the summer that, on the surface, sounded ridiculous. Back then, of course, nobody knew that his play would be off the charts this year, that he would become a favorite to win MVP, that he would end his slide toward becoming his generation's Norm Snead. Ryan has always been hyperaware of expectations and transparent about his desire to live up to them. He thinks deeply about what it takes -- what it means -- to be a great quarterback. For years, when he discussed his craft, it was fascinating as he delved into the magnitude of responsibility on each play. But it was also a little sad. You could feel the pressure building inside him as he spoke, almost making the game a little more complicated than it needed to be -- the curse of the over-invested.

That's what made his comments over the summer so interesting. Ryan -- coming off the worst season of his career with the Atlanta Falcons -- told my colleague David Fleming that his new "thing" was to "see spots" rather than "worry so much about where defenders should be or where they're supposed to be or all those kinds of things."

"Instead of getting loaded down thinking, 'In this coverage I'm going here, in that coverage I'm going there,' with so many hybrid players, so many variations of schemes and so much pressure up front and all the things that defenses can do, the way to combat all that is to see spots," Ryan said.

A lot of people ripped him for that statement. It seemed like a regression or a waving of the white flag -- nonsense that a spread quarterback would say. What quarterback reinvents himself by announcing that he no longer reads defenses? But when the season started, and Ryan began to light up opponents at a rate unprecedented in his career, it was clear that this wasn't a concession at all. It was a breakthrough.

OVER THE SUMMER, TMZ caught Ryan in Beverly Hills. As you might imagine, it was awkward. Ryan, polite and earnest in front of a camera, is not exactly a TMZ guy. His wife, Sarah, was so nonplused that she dropped behind him on the sidewalk, drifting almost out of view. TMZ stalked Ryan around Rodeo Drive, making small talk, and the weirdness of it left only one question: What was Matt Ryan, the least L.A. guy ever, doing in L.A.?

It turned out Ryan was doing for the first time what Tom Brady has done every offseason since 2013, what Drew Brees and Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer have also done in recent years: He was visiting with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux, two of the more renowned quarterback gurus. Over six weeks in the offseason, House and Dedeaux gave Ryan his own specialized improvement plan, cleaning up everything from his release to his diet. For most of House's career as a guru, he was careful to refer to himself as a "throwing coach," not a "quarterback coach." He worked on mechanics, not minds. But as his practice has expanded in demand, it has also expanded in scope.

House puts quarterbacks through psychological testing, similar to therapy, to measure how they handle failure and how they view themselves. Now, only Ryan knows how he views himself in confession. Only he knows how hard the past few years have been, as he has grown accustomed to early vacations, not playoff appearances, the past three seasons. He has always looked young, precocious -- but now he's 31 and in his ninth year, his face a little more weathered, his psyche a little more hardened. It's reasonable to guess that he viewed -- and views -- himself as a work in progress, having achieved a lot, but he knows there's still so far to go.

All quarterbacks, especially the great ones, go through crises in confidence. As with Young, we usually learn about them much later, after their playing days are over and their legacy is secure. Ryan has always said the right things publicly, even when he was taking bullets for teammates -- especially when he was taking bullets for teammates. On the play that probably haunts him more than any other -- the incomplete pass at the goal line that lost the 2013 NFC Championship Game -- his primary option ran the wrong route, crippling it from the start. Ryan dutifully accepted responsibility for it, a little over-accountability, as Walsh would say. But players later told me that Ryan made the correct read.

In that pivotal meeting years ago, Walsh told Young that no matter what he is conditioned to believe, it takes 11 guys to succeed. The quarterback is the most important piece, but not the only one. Nobody wants to admit it, especially when the greats routinely transcend dire circumstances, but it's true.

When scouts opine on what's different this year about Ryan, they are drawn toward the technical stuff: How House helped add a little distance on his deep ball and how Ryan's instinct to go for the jugular is meshing in the second year with a coaching staff that, unlike the Falcons' previous one, considers a red zone field goal as a kind of moral failing. But the biggest difference is subtle, noticeable only to those who have studied him. He is liberated. He is unfazed. He is not thinking. He is carrying his team. Atlanta's defense is horrible, and Ryan has led the Falcons to games of 35, 45 and 43 points on the road. But he doesn't seem encumbered by it.

In late October, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers came to Atlanta. Rodgers has always been Ryan's measuring stick, as Montana was for Young, and it always ate at Ryan that Rodgers came of age in a 2011 playoff win at Ryan's expense. This time, though, Ryan fit a bomb between two defenders for a touchdown to third-string receiver Taylor Gabriel in the first quarter. And in the fourth, Ryan threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 31 seconds left. It has taken years, and any theory might be undone by another second-half collapse, but it's no stretch to say that, right now, Ryan has realized that being a truly elite quarterback is not about trying to be the next Montana or the next Rodgers. It's not about deciphering every defense. It's not about folding his hands into origami as the play clock winds down to check into the perfect play. It's about unlocking what's already ingrained in him.

I THOUGHT OF Young's book again when I watched Ryan's best pass of the year. It was against the Broncos in Week 5. Ryan dropped back and threw a seam route to running back Tevin Coleman. It was one of those throws that every quarterback can make in practice, but only a few can make in a game. Coleman was covered by one defender when Ryan threw the ball, and by three when he caught it. Yet he was open. Ryan threw to a hole that only he saw. It was the type of throw that goes beyond simply exploiting a mismatch. It was the type of throw that a quarterback has to get used to and grow into. It was all faith and fearlessness. Coleman scampered all but untouched for a 31-yard touchdown that would prove to be the decisive points.

OK, so what does that have to do with Young?

You see, there's another revealing moment in his book. It takes place in that same 1991 season, when during one game, Young didn't see Jerry Rice open downfield for a touchdown. Mike Holmgren, the offensive coordinator at the time, asked why Young didn't throw it to Rice. Young explained that, at 6-foot-1, he struggled to see over the linemen on deep routes. Holmgren replied that Rice was where he was supposed to be, and that Young needed to throw it anyway. Even if he couldn't see Rice, Young needed to trust him. What's more: Holmgren told Young that he would never be a great player until he learned to do so.

Nobody can imagine how risky, if not impossible, that task is to execute: to take all of the pressure of being a quarterback in the NFL, of replacing a future Hall of Famer, of trying to live up to the expectations of yourself and everyone else, to throw the ball to a guy you can't see.

It was a leap of faith that Young could conceptualize only after he compared it to his actual faith. As a Mormon, Young wrote, he always "believed in things I couldn't see." Now, if he could believe in the "unseen on the football field it might be a solution to my predicament as a player." So Young worked on throwing to windows, not receivers. It was not only a breakthrough. It not only simplified the game. It was a relief that only the greatest passers experience.

Young coined a term for it: "Throwing blind." That's what all the quarterbacks termed it, until a generation later, when Matt Ryan, on the verge of a breakthrough himself, was mocked for adhering to the same ideology -- only he referred to it by a slightly different name.

"Seeing spots," he called it.

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