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Ryan looks toward bright future with Atlanta
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throws during the fourth quarteragainst the Jets on Dec. 20 in East Rutherford, N.J. - photo by The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH — Matt Ryan isn't taking too much credit for helping the Atlanta Falcons end an embarrassing franchise streak.

The team finally achieved consecutive winning records — the first time in its 44-year history — as Ryan helped close the 2009 season with three straight wins.

Despite the milestone, Ryan says Atlanta's bigger concern is becoming an NFC staple in the playoffs. When the Falcons were eliminated from contention three weeks ago, they had missed postseason for the 35th time.

"I feel good about what I'm doing," Ryan said Monday. "But obviously the No. 1 goal is to get ready to play next season and to prepare so we can be in the playoffs and have a run at winning the Super Bowl."

With a 9-7 record this season, the Falcons are 20-13, including a playoff loss last year, under coach Mike Smith. Ryan, who missed two starts this year with an injured toe, is 20-11, but Smith wants him and every other Falcon to keep postseason as the No. 1 goal.

"We all, starting with me, have to get better and do things better," Smith said. "We've got to make sure we evaluate everything we do."

Ryan, the 2008 NFL offensive rookie of the year, wasn't interested in comparing himself to other Atlanta quarterbacks who failed to lead the team to consecutive winning seasons.

Steve Bartkowski, Chris Chandler and Michael Vick were under center when the Falcons won playoff games during the 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2004 seasons. Ryan, like Chris Miller and Jeff George, is 0-1.

Ryan credited his teammates, the coaches and Atlanta's front office for building a foundation that could produce a consistent winner.

"I think everybody's hungry to perform better next year," Ryan said. "I think we did some things really well offensively this year and like the pieces that we have, like the guys that we have."

After a 4-1 start this year, the Falcons endured a 2-6 streak that included injuries to former Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner (ankle) and Ryan (toe) that cost them a combined seven starts during that stretch.

Ryan returned from a two-game absence, however, to make a Week 15 road start and lead the winning drive against the New York Jets. Despite that victory, though, Ryan gave more significance to the Falcons' ability to keep the score close in games he started.

"I think that was our thing this year," he said. "In a lot of different situations, we made some plays toward the end of games to either win them or tie it up or whatever it was."

Receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez finished the season with a combined for 2,020 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns. With their return to the team next year and the improved health of Turner, Ryan believes the offense could have a chance to be elite.

"That's a huge year for (White), and he's going to be a staple of our offense for a long time because he's a talented player and works hard," Ryan said. "The addition of Tony was big for us. We get back Harry Douglas next year (from knee surgery), and Jason Snelling stepped up in different roles and was huge for us. Jerious (Norwood), too."

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