0

Ryan has Falcons rolling after slow start

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan shredded the Minnesota Vikings defense for three touchdown passes during Sunday's 24-14 win that improved the Falcons' record to 7-4 overall.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan shredded the Minnesota Vikings defense for three touchdown passes during Sunday's 24-14 win that improved the Falcons' record to 7-4 overall.

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Matt Ryan is enjoying a strong recovery from his disappointing slow start to the season.

Ryan, the Falcons' fourth-year quarterback who was coming off his first Pro Bowl season, appeared to be having a career setback when he threw six interceptions in Atlanta's disappointing 2-3 start.

Looking Ahead

WHO: Falcons (7-4) at Texans (8-3).

WHAT: AFC-NFC duel.

WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Houston.

TV: Fox.

LINE: Falcons by 2 1/2.

But sure enough, the Falcons, bolstered by improved stability on their offensive line, have won five of six as Ryan has been on a roll. He has nine TD passes and only two interceptions the last four weeks.

Ryan was especially sharp in last week's win against Minnesota. He threw three TD passes with no interceptions. He had a season-high passer rating (128.3) and completed 27 of 34 passes for 262 yards for the second-highest completion percentage (79.4) of his career.

Ryan's resurgence is good news for the playoff hopes of the Falcons (7-4), who play at Houston on Sunday. Atlanta is No. 6 in the NFC playoff standings.

"He's getting into a hot rhythm right now," running back Michael Turner said Wednesday. "That's what you want to do. That's what you want out of your quarterback and every player -- constant improvement. And he's been doing that. Hopefully he doesn't slow down anytime soon."

Ryan threw six interceptions in the 2-3 start. He has thrown only four interceptions in the Falcons' 5-1 recovery.

He said he still isn't happy with his overall totals of 18 TD passes -- tied for eighth in the league -- and 10 interceptions.

"I think there are things I can certainly do better," Ryan said. "I think we've turned the football over a little too much. That's an area we'd like to clean that up. There have been some things we've done well, too. My goal is always to get better week to week, year to year, and I think I've continued to move in that direction."

One key for Ryan's improvement is newfound stability on the offensive line.

Center Todd McClure missed three of the first five games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Will Svitek took over at left tackle for Sam Baker in late October and will make his sixth straight start against the Texans.

Coach Mike Smith said Wednesday Baker had surgery on his back in the Falcons' Oct. 30 bye week and "is fighting very hard to get back." Baker also had surgery in his 2008 rookie season to repair a herniated disk.

Meanwhile, Garrett Reynolds and Joe Hawley have alternated at right guard, with Hawley starting the last four games.

The patchwork offensive line wasn't good for Ryan's health.

Ryan was sacked 13 times in the first three games -- an alarming total for a player whose career high was 23 sacks in 16 games last season. He has had better protection with only four sacks in the last four games.

"Continuity is very important on the offensive line," Smith said. "Our quarterback has been very efficient throwing the football, but for the quarterback to be efficient he has to have time and has to be able to be on his spot to be where he is supposed to be, and I think we've done a good job.

"I think the numbers say it, not only in the number of sacks we've given up, but in the efficiency we've thrown the football over the last five weeks."

Svitek (6-foot-6, 308 pounds), a sixth-round pick by Kansas City in 2005, is in his third season with Atlanta. The former defensive end at Stanford said he's happy to finally have a full-time position after playing a backup role at guard and tackle.

Svitek has the responsibility of protecting Ryan's blind side.

"It's definitely a big responsibility," Svitek said. "You take a lot of pride in keeping Matt clean and keeping him safe. It's definitely a challenge every week."

Ryan shrugged when asked Wednesday if he feels he is in a zone.

"I don't worry too much about that kind of stuff," he said. "I think, offensively, we still have a lot of areas to improve and that's our focus week to week. That's where my focus is every week, trying to be consistent and I think we've been a little more consistent the last two or three weeks."

NOTES: CB Brent Grimes will have what Smith said is a "minor" surgery on his right knee today and will miss at least two weeks. Smith said another CB, Kelvin Hayden, is "probably very doubtful" after missing the Minnesota game with a toe injury. Chris Owens or Dominique Franks likely will start for Grimes. Smith said CB Darrin Walls likely will be active for the first time this season. ... LB Stephen Nicholas (quadriceps) missed practice and may return later in the week. ... WR Julio Jones (hamstring) and Turner (groin) also were held out.