Falcons' Ryan closing regular season on hot streak


Falcons' Ryan closing regular season on hot streak

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons disagree with the idea they have little to play for in Sunday's final regular-season game against Tampa Bay.

The Falcons (13-2) have home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs, and a big goal this week is for Ryan to carry his hot streak into the postseason.

Ryan threw seven touchdown passes with no interceptions the past two weeks while completing 80 percent of his passes. He was selected to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday.

Coach Mike Smith said that ranks as the fifth-year quarterback's best back-to-back games.

Center Todd McClure said this is the perfect time for Ryan to be peaking.

``You look the past few years at teams that have had success in the playoffs, the quarterback has gotten hot at the right time,'' McClure said. ``Our quarterback definitely is hot and we've got to keep him that way.''

Ryan has completed 69 percent of his passes this season. Only San Francisco's Alex Smith, who has played in only nine games, has a higher completion rate, according to STATS LLC.

Ryan's franchise-record 4,481 yards passing ranks fifth in the NFL, and he's also fifth with 31 touchdown passes and his 100.2 quarterback rating.

Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said Ryan deserves to be mentioned with the league's top quarterbacks.

``I think he's in the elite status,'' Schiano said. ``I think he's at that level with the kind of field command he has and the way he directs the operation. To me, there are a lot of guys who have big arms and guys who are mobile and all that, but it's the way they lead and the command they have over their offense which makes them elite.''

The best news for the Falcons is Ryan is gaining momentum for the postseason. He completed 23 of 28 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-0 rout of the New York Giants two weeks ago. He completed 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards with four touchdowns and no picks in last week's 31-18 win at Detroit.

Ryan's rating in each game was 142.6. Smith said he hasn't seen the quarterback play better in consecutive weeks.

``The numbers I think will back that up in terms of quarterback rating and the passing yardage but really it's about running the offense and our offensive team,'' Smith said after Wednesday's practice.

``He's done a really good job with good plays at the right time and he's got us out of some bad plays. He's looked very comfortable in the pocket and going through his progressions and getting the ball to the guy we need to get it to most of the time.''

McClure said Ryan's mastery of the offense and confidence in his skills show in his performance.

``He's learned the game better,'' McClure said. ``He's learned our offense. Now he's just confident with where everybody is on the field. He knows where everybody is at any given moment. Right now he's making all the throws and that's why he's playing really well.''

Ryan, who will be joined by tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receiver Julio Jones in the Pro Bowl. said improved consistency has boosted his confidence.

``I feel like my confidence the entire year has been as high as it's ever been,'' he said. ``I've felt good each week. One of the things I've always strived for is consistency. I try to be consistent week in and week out. I think I've been better with that the last couple of weeks and really the entire year.''

This is the second time in three years the Falcons will be the NFC's top seed in the playoffs. They were 13-3 in 2010, but lost to Green Bay in the playoffs.

Atlanta lost to the Giants in the first round of the playoffs last season, leaving Ryan 0-3 in the postseason.

Ryan said this team is more mature and better prepared for the playoffs.

``Probably the biggest difference with where we're at now and a couple years ago is the maturity of the football team,'' Ryan said.

``I think at this point everybody understands we've put ourselves in good position but we still have a lot of work to do. Nobody is content with where we're at and I think that's a little bit different than where we've been in the past.''

NOTES: S William Moore, who has missed three games with a hamstring injury, was held out again Wednesday and likely will miss Sunday's game, according to Smith. ``I would like for Williams to be ready to go but the doctors have got to make that determination,'' Smith said. WR Roddy White (knee), CB Christopher Owens (hamstring) and DE Cliff Matthews (hamstring) also missed practice, while DT Jonathan Babineaux (ribs) and DT Corey Peters (knee) were limited. ... WR Kevin Cone was placed on injured reserve to clear a spot for OL Joe Hawley, who returned last week from a four-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.


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5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

Here are five plays or moments from the Wizards' 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night that are worth revisiting... 

1. The Wizards took care of business against the Pacers on Saturday night and in doing so earned an important advantage in the playoff race. They won the season series and therefore own a tiebreaker for playoff seeding and currently that would mean home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs began today.

The Wizards took control early and part of that effort were five first-half assists by Bradley Beal. He ended up with 19 points, but some of his best plays were passes.

On this one, he executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat:


2. This was another pretty pass to Gortat. Tomas Satoransky, who had 12 points and eight assists, fed Gortat with a nice reach-around pass on a play that featured some impressive ball movement overall:

3. This was a great moment. The Wizards had a member of the military surprise his niece on the court. She literally did not see it coming:


4. These last two plays are dunks by Kelly Oubre, Jr., who finished with 16 points. On this play, he cut through the and threw down with authority:

5. This dunk was set up by a beautiful pass from Ramon Sessions. It traveled about three-quarters of the court and Oubre did the rest:

The Wizards now have three days off before their next game as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Things are trending positive for the Wizards as the playoff race heats up.

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Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

The Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Important victory: Saturday night's game between the Wizards and Pacers had several layers of playoff implications on the line and it was Washington who rose to the occasion and showed the urgency commensurate for the stakes.

By beating the Pacers, the Wizards locked up the season series between the teams, two games to one. That gives them the tiebreaker for playoff seeding if the teams finish the regular season with the same record. That could very well prove paramount. As of now, the Wizards and Pacers have the same record (40-30) with 12 games to go.

The season series advantage means the Wizards are above the Pacers in the standings despite having the same record. They moved into fourth place in the East with the win and the Cavs slotted back into third. There will likely be a lot more movement as these next few weeks play out, but the Wizards now hold an important edge over the Pacers.

The win also pushed the Wizards to 14-8 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. Wall could return this coming week or the week after and the Wizards have more than stayed afloat during his absence.

The Wizards' magic number to make the playoffs is now just five. 


Sato went off: The Wizards jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter mostly thanks to a hot start from Tomas Satoransky, who scored the Wizards' first five points and had 10 by the end of the first quarter.

Satoransky's floater was automatic. He dropped in several in the lane from all different angles. Satoransky was practicing the same shots, floaters off each foot, the day before in practice and it paid off.

It was a well-rounded night for Satoransky. In addition to his 12 points, he also had eight assists and five rebounds, including this one to find Marcin Gortat for the dunk:

Gortat came up big: Speaking of Gortat, the Wizards' big man had one of his best games of the season. He poured in 18 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists a steal and a block. Gortat shot 6-for-8, consistently having his way on the block.

The Pacers were without two of their best big men in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis and Gortat took advantage of that. He was way too much for Al Jefferson.

The Pacers tried to roll with small-ball lineups using Trevor Booker and Thaddeus Young as their big men, but it didn't work. Gortat was too big for them and his teammates did a great job finding him for open looks.

Gortat's 18 points were his most since Jan. 3 when he had a season-high 21 against the Knicks. Lately, Gortat has seen his minutes dwindle with the increased role for Ian Mahinmi, so Saturday night must have felt good for the Polish Machine.


Bojan held in check: Bojan Bogdanovic, who spent part of last season with the Wizards, was a major factor in the first two matchups between Washington and the Pacers this season. He had 20 points in one game and 29 in another, each time getting hot from three.

The Wizards, though, made some adjustments in this one and held Bo Buckets in check. He didn't make his first shot until nearly the midway point of the second quarter and it was only because Kelly Oubre, Jr. (16 points, 18 minutes) lost his balance. Oubre stumbled backward, giving Bogdanovic a split second to get off an open three. That was the only shot he hit in the first half as he began the game 1-for-4.

Oubre did a good job harrassing Bogdanovic and not giving him space on the premiter. Otto Porter (eight points) and Bradley Beal (19 points) did as well. Both Porter and Beal stripped the ball out of Bogdanovic's hands early in the third quarter. Midway through the third, Bogdanovic got past Porter only to be called for an offensive foul on a collision with Gortat. All in all, it was a frustrating night for Bogdanovic, who had 11 points, three below his season average.

Bogdanovic is a very good shooter and when he's hot can alter games. But when you take his shots away, there's not much else he can do to hurt you. The Wizards did a good job taking away his strengths and making others beat them. Not having to focus on Turner and Sabonis certainly helped. 

Sessions is still in the rotation: It turns out those five games for Ramon Sessions over the course of his second 10-day contract weren't just an audition. Now that he has been signed for the rest of the season, Sessions is still getting the nod over Tim Frazier as the backup point guard.

Sessions logged 18 minutes and even played alongside Satoransky and Jodie Meeks in the fourth quarter. The Wizards had a sizable lead and head coach Scott Brooks decided to experiment with his lineups. That is something to keep in mind for when Wall comes back. Once he does, Sessions will be the third point guard and likely rarely see the court. But if they see something they like about him at shooting guard, that could open the door for more playing time possibilities.

Up next: The Wizards have three off-days before their next game. That will be on Wednesday when they head to San Antonio to face the Spurs. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Wizards HangTime.

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