- D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Quarterback Matt Ryan is set to return to the playoffs for the sixth time over his 10-year career with the Atlanta Falcons.
After finishing 10-6, the Falcons earned the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race and will play the Los Angles Rams (11-5) at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“I’m really excited to be in,” Ryan said. “Now, we’ve got more work to do. It’s a short week for us.”
After reaching the Super Bowl last season and losing in historic fashion, the road back to the playoffs was bumpy for the Falcons and Ryan.
The offense wasn’t always in sync under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Ryan’s touchdown passes dropped from 38 to 20. His interceptions rose from seven to 12.
Ryan missed a lot of deep passes. The wide receivers led the league in dropped passes which 28 leading into the final game. There were untimely penalties and even a rash of fumbles late in the season.
But when the offense could just get a few things going and manage to get over 20 points, the Falcons were 10-0.
“I think we’ve got a tough football team,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t perfect throughout the regular season by any stretch of imagination, but we battled and found a way to play ourselves into this situation.”
Ryan guided the Falcons to the playoffs as a rookie back in 2008. With a strong rushing attack behind Michael Turner, the Falcons finished 11-5.
The Falcons didn’t return in 2009, but Ryan led them back in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The 2012 team came within six yards of going to the Super Bowl, but lost to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
After two down seasons, Mike Smith was fired and Dan Quinn hired as the head coach. The Falcons went 8-8 in his first season before going 11-5 last season and reaching the Super Bowl.
“I’ve played long enough to know that all that you want is an opportunity,” Ryan said. “All that you want is a chance this time of the year. We gave ourselves that opportunity.”
Ryan has dealt gracefully with the questions about the Super Bowl collapse, his relationship with Sarkisian and why he can’t throw more touchdown passes to Julio Jones.
“I’m really proud of that,” Ryan said. “We answered a lot of questions all year about a lot of different things, and I thought our guys handled ourselves the right way.”
The Falcons tried to brush last season away an re-direct questions to the current team and current season.
“We had the right mindset to come back and try to be the best football team we could be this year,” Ryan said. “We put ourselves in position to move forward and we’re excited about that opportunity.”
Ryan completed 28 of 45 passes for 317 yards in the 22-10 win over the Panthers to earn the playoff berth. Ryan finished the season with 4,095 passing yards, going over the 4,000-passing yard mark for the seventh-straight season.
Ryan’s string of 4,000-yard season is tied for the second-longest active streak in the NFL, and it is tied for the third-longest in NFL history.
Overall, this will be the Falcons’ 14th appearance in the playoffs with two trips to the Super Bowl, both losses.
The 1998 team was the other team to reach the Super Bowl under Dan Reeves.
The Falcons are the only team in the NFC who made the playoffs in 2016 to return to the playoffs. Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas, Detroit and the New York Giants did not repeat.
“Well, coming into this season, we had talked quite a bit about how difficult the NFC south would be,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I didn’t think anybody would go all the way through and not have a chance to go undefeated through it, and it certainly played out that way.”
The Falcons finished 4-2 in the division, which boasts of three playoff teams this season.
“But once we’re in, it’s just for this week,” Quinn said. “I’ve heard just that we’re going to play out at Los Angeles, and that’s the fight that we’re in, that’s the fight that matters, and we’ll be completely, 100 percent ready to ball.”