FLOWERY BRANCH — There were two new pingpong tables in the Falcons’ locker room on Wednesday, bringing the total to three.
Matt Ryan walked past them all without even a glance.
Ryan’s new locker-room neighbor can confirm Atlanta’s quarterback is not going to spend time hitting pingpong balls or dunking on the mini-basketball goal attached to the locker room door. At least not on a work day.
“Pretty business-oriented,” said center Alex Mack when asked to describe Ryan. “He’s in here to do business.”
If so, Ryan is a successful businessman.
Ryan leads the NFL with 2,980 yards passing and 23 touchdowns — with only four interceptions. He is enjoying an impressive career rebirth as the Falcons prepare for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. For Ryan, it’s a return to his hometown where he cheered for quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Eagles.
“I don’t think anybody growing up in that area is a fan of anything other than Philadelphia sports,” Ryan said Wednesday. “They’ve got some pretty passionate fans up there. I grew up pulling for the Eagles and Phillies and Flyers and Sixers. … Donovan McNabb was the guy, man.”
Only one year ago, some wondered if Ryan’s time as the Falcons’ “guy” was drawing to a close. There were questions about his arm strength and his ability to fit in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Some even wondered if it was time for the Falcons to think about drafting his replacement after he threw only 21 touchdown passes, his low since his 2008 rookie season.
Ryan, 31, has silenced his critics. His 42 passes of at least 20 yards are the most in the league and the Falcons (6-3) lead the NFC South.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Ryan is “definitely playing Pro Bowl-caliber right now.”
“Obviously, you learn from experiences and rely on those a little bit,” Pederson said Wednesday. “I think Matt is taking care of the football and he’s just letting the game come to him. He’s not pressing any issues. He’s an accurate passer. He’s big and tall and strong in the pocket, and he’s just utilizing the strength of his offense.”
Ryan threw for 344 yards with four touchdowns in last week’s 43-28 win over Tampa Bay. He was named NFC offensive player of the week on Wednesday after being named player of the month for September.
Coach Dan Quinn said Ryan is all-business on the practice field, just like in the locker room. He said Ryan’s success on the field came from extra work in practice.
“I think it’s a lot due to the deliberate practice that Matt applies himself to, whether it’s a certain route he wants to throw or the timing with the receiver,” Quinn said. “It’s the extra work that goes in that’s kind of unseen.”
Ryan insisted he finds time for fun with all the extra work. He said he likes to play pingpong — just not on days the team is practicing and his focus is on football.
“I like pingpong,” Ryan said. “But … especially when we’re going (to practice) on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I like to be as efficient with my time inside the building as I can be. That’s something I’ve learned throughout my career, so when we get in here I’m trying to be as productive and get myself as best prepared as I can for the game that week.”
NOTES: DE Dwight Freeney (quad), RB Tevin Coleman (hamstring), CB Desmond Trufant (shoulder) and TE Jacob Tamme (shoulder) did not practice. “We expect some back as the week goes on,” Quinn said. Rookie Austin Hooper likely would start if Tamme misses his second straight game. Hooper and another backup tight end, Levine Toilolo, had TD catches last week.