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Close calls fine as long as Falcons win

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Quarterback Matt Ryan isn't terribly concerned the Atlanta Falcons have developed a flair for crazy fourth quarters.

As long as the Falcons keep winning close games, Ryan will be pleased.

"There's always lots of room for improvement, but ultimately what's important is that we're getting the job done," Ryan said Tuesday. "It's good that we've taken advantage of opportunities when they've been presented themselves."

When Atlanta (6-2) hosts the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) on Thursday, Ryan expects a third straight home game that's tightly contested.

In five games decided by an average of 4.8 points this season, the Falcons have four victories. Baltimore has won four of six decided by an average of 3.7.

But with a half-game lead at stake for both Atlanta in the NFC and the Ravens in the AFC, Ryan knows the Falcons must keep the same mindset that helped them hold off Tampa Bay and Cincinnati in their last two games.

Atlanta's offense has outscored opponents 49-16 in the fourth quarter this year, but the downside is a differential of minus-42 points in the second.

The Falcons need more balance.

"I think the biggest thing is you just have to be patient," Ryan said. "You never know when you're going to get into a rhythm offensively, whether it's at the beginning of the game, late in the game or in different series throughout the game. But when you do extend those drives, it's imperative that you score points."

Ryan, who has a 92.8 passer rating and four touchdowns with two interceptions in the fourth quarter this season, has had plenty of help in winning close games:

-- Safety Thomas DeCoud and linebacker Coy Wire stuffed Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount on fourht-and-1 at the Atlanta 2 with less than 3 minutes remaining.

-- Receiver Roddy White stripped away an interception return that give Ryan a chance to restart a winning drive over San Francisco. White also caught a critical 2-point conversion against Cincinnati;

-- Matt Bryant has kicked a pair of winning field goals.

White, who ranks second in the NFL in catches and yards receiving, believes the Falcons' late success is building character that will help over the next several weeks.

"It's preparing us for later in the season, and you know playoff games are always going to be tight," White said. "We just need to find a way to get through it and find a way to get it done."

Ravens running back Ray Rice, who ranks 13th in yards rushing and fifth in yards receiving for a running back, feels similarly about his team.

One of Baltimore's late victories was secured by the defense (linebacker Ray Lewis against Buffalo) and another by the offense (Joe Flacco's touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh at Pittsburgh).

"We've faced many situations now that we've overcome," said Ravens running back Ray Rice. "As a team, you want to (be tested) because later in the year, every time we're in the situation now, we're in the huddle saying, 'We've been here before, we've been here before.' We're overcoming it, and now it just feels good that we're hitting stride."