1:00 PM ET, October 26, 2008
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
But with the last-place Eagles in need of a victory and their blitz-happy defense among the league leaders in sacks, Ryan isn't likely to get a warm welcome in his first professional game in his home state.
A pair of teams coming off byes will face off Sunday in Philadelphia, where Ryan's Falcons will try for their third straight victory while the hometown Eagles look to climb back into the NFC East race.
When first-year Atlanta coach Mike Smith tabbed Ryan as the starter to begin his rookie season, it didn't seem likely that the Falcons (4-2) would have a better record than the Eagles (3-3) for Sunday's meeting. But Atlanta has performed well above expectations thanks in part to steady play from the former Boston College star and the No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft.
Ryan, an Exton, Pa., native and a standout at Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, has thrown four touchdown passes and just one interception in his last four games, leading the Falcons to three wins over that span, including his first NFL road victory at Green Bay on Oct. 5.
He got the ball with Atlanta trailing and just six seconds left against Chicago on Oct. 12, but hit Michael Jenkins with a 26-yard pass to set up Jason Elam's game-winning field goal in the Falcons' 22-20 victory over the Bears. Smith hoisted Ryan in the air after the win, in which the 23-year-old quarterback threw for 301 yards and a touchdown without an interception.
"Obviously we're a very young football team," veteran linebacker Keith Brooking said. "On down the line, I knew we were going to have a lot of success. But our rookies and young players have performed well under pressure."
It has certainly helped Ryan having one of the NFL's leading rushers. In his first season as a starter after backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, Michael Turner ranks third in the league with 597 rushing yards, adding six touchdowns. Atlanta's 163 yards per game on the ground give them the second-best rushing offense in the league.
Even the Falcons themselves may have figured they'd be rebuilding as they continue to recover from former quarterback Michael Vick's conviction and former coach Bobby Petrino's sudden departure, but their early play has them in the thick of any playoff conversations in the NFC.
"It's realistic, but we've also got to understand the road from here on out is going to be tougher," Turner said. "We're not going to be sneaking up on anybody. People are going to take us seriously now."
While Philadelphia's fans may be somewhat preoccupied with Game 4 of the World Series taking place across the parking lot from Lincoln Financial Field Sunday night, the Eagles will certainly be taking their game seriously, especially considering they're already chasing three teams in their division.
Philadelphia is hoping to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, but it has been an up-and-down year for coach Andy Reid's team. While the Eagles average nearly 28 points per game -- fourth in the NFL -- the offense was quiet in the second half in consecutive tight losses to Chicago and Washington on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5.
The unit rebounded in the team's last game, even with versatile running back Brian Westbrook sidelined with broken ribs for the 40-26 win at San Francisco on Oct. 12. Backup running back Correll Buckhalter totaled 178 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, while the Eagles outscored the 49ers 23-0 in the fourth quarter.
"This was a significant game in general for us," Reid said. "It's important we establish more consistency and eliminate some of the highs and lows."
Coming off a bye week might help -- the Eagles are 9-0 following a bye under Reid. They also should be aided by a healthier roster, as both Westbrook and wide receiver Kevin Curtis, who hasn't played this season due to sports hernia surgery, hope to return Sunday.
Philadelphia hopes its tenacious pass rush is also on display. The Eagles are tied for second in the NFL with 21 sacks, including 14 in three home games, and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson doesn't figure to hold anything back against Ryan.
"We're not going to stop," safety Brian Dawkins said. "You may get us every once in a while, but we're not going to stop, so you have to be able to maintain that same cool that you were on that one play that you got us on the other 20 blitzes that we throw at you."
Ryan, who has a 59.2 passer rating on the road compared with a 121.9 mark at home, has been sacked just seven times this season, including twice in the last four games.
Atlanta's line may have to put forth a similar effort if the Falcons hope to earn their first win at Philadelphia since Oct. 30, 1988, when they captured a 27-24 victory at Veterans Stadium. They've dropped all four visits since then, including a 20-6 divisional playoff loss after the 2002 season and a 27-10 defeat in the NFC title game on Jan. 23, 2005.
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|Avg Points Allowed||22.0||19.6|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||ATL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||ATL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Philadelphia leads 5-1|
|Dec 31, 2006||ATL 17, @PHI 24|
|Sep 12, 2005||ATL 14, PHI 10|
|Jan 23, 2005||ATL 10, @PHI 27|
|Nov 2, 2003||ATL 16, PHI 23|
|Jan 11, 2003||ATL 6, @PHI 20|