Falcons out of playoffs again, but QB Ryan still encouraged

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Quarterback Matt Ryan regrets the Atlanta Falcons blew their playoff chances with a six-game losing streak.

Though a two-game winning streak wasn't enough to keep his team in contention, Ryan said there's still one goal left.

A victory Sunday over New Orleans (6-9) would give Atlanta (8-7) a winning record for the first time in three years.

It's far from the lofty goals they had after winning their first five games, but at least the Falcons have something to play for in the finale.

''I think we've proven we can play really good football,'' Ryan said. ''But we need do it more often and we need to do it every time we show up.''

This week has taken longer than usual for Ryan to shake off soreness from the previous game. The three-time Pro Bowl selection was hit repeatedly in last week's upset of unbeaten Carolina, but Ryan insists it's nothing he hasn't experienced before.

Listed on the injury report this week with a sore hip, Ryan says he never regrets getting knocked down when his receivers make plays. He took a particularly hard shot in the first quarter, scrambling to convert a third down and getting slammed to the turf by Kurt Coleman.

Devonta Freeman ran for a tying touchdown on the next snap.

''That's part of how some games shake out, you know?'' he said. ''You have to be aggressive and try and get the ball down the field at certain times.''

The most dramatic moment came in the third quarter when Ryan escaped the pocket to his left and heaved a 70-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones. Charles Tillman pushed Ryan down as he released the ball, but Jones' acrobatic catch gave Atlanta the lead for good.

''I thought we did a great job of creating explosive plays,'' Ryan said. ''Sometimes you've got to hang in there in the pocket and take some of that stuff because there's great stuff going on down the field.''

Despite a 74-51 overall career record, Ryan has struggled more against New Orleans than any opponent, going 5-9 in the series. The eighth-year veteran has a losing mark against just three other teams, Green Bay, New England and Pittsburgh.

The Falcons were 5-0 when they visited the Saints in October. A 10-point loss started a 1-7 stretch that ended with a shaky win at Jacksonville two weeks ago.

Ryan will face a Saints defense that ranks second-worst in the NFL. After beating a Carolina defense that ranks No. 4, the Falcons gained some confidence last week, but not enough for Ryan to take recent success for granted.

''I thought it was a big win for us,'' he said. ''It kept our playoff chances alive (for a few hours), so that was important. But also to kind of get the ship righted here at the end of the season from some of the things that we didn't do well in the middle of the season - that's really positive, too.''

Note: Rookie RB Tevin Coleman, a third-round draft pick from Indiana, will miss his second straight game after falling in the shower last week at team headquarters and sustaining a concussion. ... WR Roddy White (ankle), WR Eric Weems (concussion), RG Chris Chester (shoulder) and reserve CB Phillip Adams (hamstring) were upgraded on the injury report and are listed as probable for Sunday.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.