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Ryan returns to home state to lead Falcons against Eagles

POSTED: October 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Matt Ryan would love to stick around Philadelphia to catch a World Series game Sunday, but he’s got a job to do.

"No chance," said Ryan. "I’ve got to get back and get ready for whoever we play the following week."

Passionate as he is about his Phillies, Ryan has his professional priorities straight.

Ryan, raised just outside Philadelphia in Exton, Pa., grew up a Phillies — and Eagles and 76ers and Flyers — fan.

But his family’s football loyalties now lie with the Falcons after he went third overall to Atlanta in this year’s draft.

"They’re season ticket holders for a different organization now," Ryan said.

The Atlanta rookie expects to have plenty of friends and family in the stands when he leads the Falcons into Lincoln Financial Field to face the Eagles. And they will be watching what could be the next step in his rapid maturation as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Ryan won the starting job in training camp and has already led the Falcons (4-2) to as many wins as they had all last season.

"It’s tough to have expectations coming in because you’re not sure what you’re getting yourself into," Ryan said.

"With that said, I think I had a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. That was my goal, as I think everybody’s goal is when they come out to compete, is to be the guy on the field."

Ryan has been getting plenty of help from his teammates. Free-agent acquisition Michael Turner is third in the league in rushing with 597 yards and has six touchdowns. Backup running back Jerious Norwood averages 6.2 yards per carry. Roddy White is fifth in the league with 566 yards receiving.

And defensive end John Abraham is fifth in the league with seven sacks.

"My teammates have been doing a great job," Ryan said. "The guys around me are playing really well and when you have that it makes a quarterback look better."

Still, Ryan has impressed the Eagles with his poise.

Safety Brian Dawkins said Ryan could be the rare rookie quarterback who isn’t flustered by defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s elaborate blitz schemes.

"He scrambles, puts the ball on the money when he scrambles, can get away from pressure, gets rid of the ball, and doesn’t make turnovers," Dawkins said.

"That’s all the signs of a pretty doggone good quarterback if I say so."

The Falcons put Ryan in a position to succeed by relying on their strong running game and being opportunistic on play-action, Dawkins said.

The Eagles (3-3), who played the run well early but have given up back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances, should expect Atlanta to establish the run with Turner.

"He’s a load to bring down; I’ll tell you that much watching him on film," Dawkins said.

"We’re going to have our hands full."

While Ryan and the Falcons are performing above expectations, the Eagles can recover from their recent stumbles with another win and push themselves back into the race for the NFC East title — a scenario that seemed unlikely two weeks ago after a dreadful 23-17 loss to Washington.

Although both teams will be well-rested coming off bye weeks, the Eagles are 9-0 following a bye in coach Andy Reid’s tenure.

"There are some things that we’re doing well," Reid said. "But there are some things that we need to get better at and we were able to go through, on the offensive side and defensive side and special teams, and hammer some things out. We’ll see if we’ve targeted the right things and if we get better at them."

The Eagles have historically started slow under Reid, going 34-34 before the bye week and 57-25 after.

If they are going to claw back into a playoff spot, the Eagles will need to improve in a hurry to make up ground in the division.

"We have had highs and lows," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "I think, in this game, you can’t have one week high, next week low. You have to be consistent. I saw a lot of inconsistency as far as what we were doing as a team."

The Eagles started out with a big win over St. Louis and a shootout loss to Dallas. Then they lost All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook to an ankle injury in a close win over Pittsburgh and dropped two straight while the offense sputtered.

Before the bye, they trailed the 49ers by nine points before reeling off 23 fourth-quarter points in a 40-26 win.

"It’s just little mistakes that turn out to be big mistakes that end up costing us at the end of the game," McNabb said.

The Eagles should get a boost from the return of Westbrook, who has played only sparingly since Week 2 with an ankle injury and broken ribs, and receiver Kevin Curtis, who has not played since having surgery in August to repair a sports hernia.

"I’m tired of being injured, I’m tired of being in the training room," Westbrook said. "I’m ready for that breakout game."



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