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NFL NOTEBOOK: Ryan on career-best hot streak at right time; Ex-Georgia Tech star MegaTron hones in on 2,000-yard receiving mark

Falcons QB Matt Ryan has the NFL’s second-highest completion percentage this year.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan has the NFL’s second-highest completion percentage this year.

FLOWERY BRANCH — 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 recent 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 added 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 receiver Julio Jones in the Pro Bowl, said Thursday that 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, has been held out all week and likely will miss Sunday’s game, according to Smith. “I would like for William 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.


With single-season record already broken, ex-Georgia Tech, Lions star WR Johnson hones in on surpassing 2,000

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The smile has rarely left former Georgia Tech star Calvin Johnson’s face since he broke Jerry Rice’s NFL record for receiving yards in a single season against Atlanta on Dec. 22.

Don’t let Johnson’s smile fool you. Underneath that cheery expression, there’s a fierce competitor who wants to make Rice’s accomplishments a distant second to his own effort this year.

Johnson’s record-setting night against the Falcons put him at 1,892 yards for the season, just 108 yards shy of the 2,000 receiving yard plateau. The Lions wide receiver doesn’t normally focus on his own achievements but he admitted Thursday that he wanted to reach the milestone to ensure that no one challenged his record for a very long time.

It “would be big -- kind of almost put that (record) away for a while,” he said. “All records are meant to be broken, but it would take a long time for somebody to come and get that. You never know. It could happen next year, but it would be a tough (record to break).”

Getting the yards he needs to break the 2,000-yard mark won’t be easy won’t be easy for Johnson against a Bears team that held him to a season-low three catches for 34 yards on 11 targets when Chicago beat Detroit 13-7 on Oct. 22.

Asked why Chicago was able to limit his effectiveness, Johnson credited Bears’ defensive coordinator — and Johnson’s former head coach in Detroit — Rod Marinelli for designing pass coverage schemes that aren’t easy for him to anticipate.

“(Chicago does) a great job with their safeties and bringing them down really late (to challenge receivers),” he said. “From film, we’ve seen games they haven’t done it as much, but for some reason when we see them, they do a lot of disguising (coverages), which makes it harder (to get open).”

It’s also worth noting that Chicago will be able to devote more attention to stopping Johnson than they did in the teams’ first meeting of the season because of season-ending injuries to receivers Nate Burleson, Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz admits that his current receiving corps has forced him to rely heavily on Johnson’s production, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan says he will have to find creative ways to create space for quarterback Matthew Stafford to get Johnson the ball.

“We’re obviously going to have to put (Johnson) in different positions (on the field),” Linehan said. “There’s going to be even more attention on him with our receiving depth the way it is. Guys have got to be good around him. But I think he’ll still have a productive game the way he’s locked in.”

Johnson isn’t alone in his desire to break the 2,000-yard mark before the season ends. Several of his teammates say they want him to reach the milestone so that he receives the attention they say he has earned by choosing to support the team rather than focus on personal goals.

“He deserves (the recognition),” WR Kris Durham said. “He’s a true professional, he’s a team guy, and I can’t say enough about him. When you’ve have an accomplishment like he had, it’s very easy to congratulate him and make (the focus) about him.”

Johnson stopped short of predicting that he would reach the milestone Thursday, but that didn’t stop teammate Rob Sims from echoing the sentiments of several people in the Lions’ locker room who believe Johnson will reach the 2,000-yard mark.

“(Breaking the 2,000-yard mark) is going to be kind of easy for him,” Sims said. “As good as he is, I think it’s almost a shoe-in.”