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What Matt Ryan had to say after win over Panthers 

Here’s what Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had to say after the win over the Panthers in the regular-season finale:

On making the playoffs: “We’re excited. Obviously, we had to come away with a win today and play our way in. I thought we competed really well today and were aggressive throughout the game. We had a number of guys playing their hearts out today. I’m proud of the effort. I’m really excited to be in. Now we’ve got more work to do. It’s a short week for us. I think we’re going out to LA. We’ll have to get back to work tomorrow to make sure that we’re rested and well prepared going into this weekend.”

On scoring on the first drive for the fourth time: “It was huge. When you’re playing against a good defense like Carolina, any time you can get some points early and get momentum going is big. I thought it was an excellent first drive for us. We converted a bunch of third downs, which were huge. Then Devonta Freeman came up with a very nice catch and run for the touchdown. It was exactly how we wanted to start the football game.”

On the field goals during the second half: “We’ve got to give the assists to the defense. We had two short-field opportunities, which were huge, and I thought our defense played extremely well today. We knew coming in that their defense was very good. We knew there was going to be some tough series and plays, but we kept our mindset right and battled.”

On how far the defense has come from last year: “I really appreciate it. I see how hard they work every day, going out there and working at their craft, trying to get better. They put in incredible amounts of effort to improve and those guys have really played extremely well this year. They certainly have been one of the reasons we’re playing in the postseason.”

On improving in the red zone for playoffs: “For sure. I think we were 1-for-5 in the red area today. You’d like to walk away with more touchdowns than that, but we got the job done. Ultimately, the mission coming into this was to find a way to get it done. We got it done. Hopefully we can be better in the red area as we move into the playoffs.”

On whether the defense was a factor in targeting Devonta Freeman: “Both. Coming into the game, we felt like Devonta Freeman was a good matchup for us in some of their zone coverages going against their backers. He’s so talented out of the backfield. He’s such a versatile running back that it was a great advantage for us to try and get him the ball. It also allows you to get the ball out a little bit quicker when going against their pass rush. I thought it was a good game plan by Steve Sarkisian, and then really good execution and effort by Freeman. I thought he played extremely well.”

On whether Devonta Freeman was the intended receiver on the first touchdown or was he a check down: “He was a check down on that play. We were working our progression across the board. The last of it I didn’t really see. I don’t know if him and Julio Jones rubbed or bumped into each other. I don’t know what happened there as I was climbing, but I’m glad it shook out the way it did. He got in.”

On being the only team from last year to make the NFC playoffs: “I think we’ve got a tough football team. 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. I’ve played long enough to know that all that you want is an opportunity. All that you want is a chance this time of the year. We gave ourselves that opportunity. I’m really proud of that. We answered a lot of questions all year about a lot of different things, and I thought our guys handled ourselves the right way. We had the right mindset to come back and try to be the best football team we could be this year. We put ourselves in position to move forward and we’re excited about that opportunity.”

On whether the touchdown play with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu was designed: “That was the design. I tried to throw to the back shoulder of Mohamed Sanu down the middle. Luke Kuechly was on his up-field shoulder, so I tried to throw that ball to the back shoulder. I’ll have to look at the tape to see if the guy on the outside right pushed Taylor Gabriel, but it was a bang-bang play. We’re going to take those chances and be aggressive to let those balls rip.”

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