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Falcons report: Ryan's got potential, but still seeking first road win
Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan throws on the run against the Detroit Lions in the Falcons' season opener on Sept. 7 in Atlanta. - photo by Rich Addicks

GREEN BAY, Wis. - As a rookie quarterback playing right away for a team that ranked among the league's worst last season, Matt Ryan was expected to take his licks in 2008.

But four games into the season, Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons (2-2) have taken big steps toward helping people forget Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino.

Packers cornerback Will Blackmon, a former teammate at Boston College, isn't surprised at Ryan's early success.

"He always had that hunger to win and prove people wrong," Blackmon said. "Since Day 1, he's always had that in him. Coming from high school to college, we saw that. Coming from college to the NFL, I'm sure his teammates are seeing that."

Now Ryan has a chance to add a high-profile road win to his resume in today's game against the Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Lambeau Field. The Packers have lost two straight and are reeling from injuries.
"The season's long and there's going to be bumps and bruises for everybody as you go through the season," Ryan said. "But I still think they're very talented in the secondary."

But much of that talent will be on the sideline or not playing at 100 percent.

Cornerback Al Harris is out indefinitely with a spleen injury, and defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins was placed on injured reserve this week with a chest injury.

Linebacker A.J. Hawk has a groin injury, cornerback Charles Woodson continues to play with a broken toe and the Packers' three best safeties are listed on the injury report this week.

And Ryan might be the most experienced quarterback on the field today. Packers starter Aaron Rodgers sprained his right shoulder in the Packers' loss at Tampa Bay last week, and it is unclear whether he will start today.

If he can't, the Packers will start backup Matt Flynn, a seventh-round pick out of LSU who beat out more-heralded rookie Brian Brohm in training camp.

Rodgers says the quarterback-record consecutive starts streak owned by predecessor Brett Favre doesn't put any additional pressure on him to play today.

"I don't need any extra fuel to play," Rodgers said. "I want to play extremely badly."

So far, Ryan and the Falcons have been much better at home than on the road. They've scored 30-plus points in home wins over Detroit and Kansas City, and lost road games at Tampa Bay and Carolina by identical scores of 24-9.

Ryan has completed 67.7 percent of his passes at home, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. On the road, Ryan's completion percentage has dropped to 45.9 percent, with two interceptions and no touchdowns.

Ryan knows what he's getting into in terms of the game-day atmosphere at Lambeau. Ryan's coach at Boston College, Jeff Jagodzinski, is a former Packers offensive coordinator.

"He talked a little bit about it, just the first couple times we met, said it's a great place to play, the atmosphere is second to none," Ryan said. "And I look forward to getting up there this weekend."

The Falcons tried to spark their offense at Carolina last week by running a no-huddle offense - and Ryan showed he could handle it, an impressive feat for a rookie quarterback.

"We've had the confirmation that he's a very astute quarterback," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "He's going to go through some growing pains. Any young quarterback in this league is. It's probably the biggest learning curve of any position to make that transition from college to the NFL, but I think Matt has the mind-set to be very successful."

Ryan's ability to run the no-huddle certainly grabbed the attention of Packers head coach and resident quarterbacks guru Mike McCarthy.

"You can see where just in the early stage of his career they have already gone no-huddle with him," McCarthy said. "I think there is a lot to work with. I think he is a quarterback that has a promising future, but he's still young."

Ryan looks even more promising when the Falcons' running game is working.

New running back Michael Turner is averaging 7.2 yards per carry with five touchdowns at home, and 3.1 yards per carry and no touchdowns on the road.

Turner could have a big day against a Packers defense that has struggled to stop the run early in the season. Green Bay will have to adjust to the loss of Jenkins, an underrated complement to sack artist Aaron Kampman who slid inside to defensive tackle on passing downs.

McCarthy, typically not one to single out a particular player for praise, said Jenkins' first four games were "dominant."

And while the Packers still have a dangerous corps of receivers led by big-play threat Greg Jennings, they'll need to get more out of their own running game to end their losing streak. They'll also need better pass protection against Atlanta defensive end John Abraham, who leads the league with six sacks.

"We've got to get more production out of our offense," McCarthy said. "You can sit there and pick apart anybody. When you're on the field as long as we were and the number of plays that we're having, that's just not productive enough."

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