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Matt Ryan: Falcons have ‘a great chance’ to return to Super Bowl – Atlanta Falcons Blog

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DECATUR, Ga. — About 20 minutes before Matt Ryan arrived at the Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta Thursday, highlights of the Atlanta Falcons’ deflating Super Bowl LI loss to the New England Patriots played on a big-screen television right inside the front entrance.

Had Ryan walked in to see such a sight, he might have laughed and shaken his head before proceeding about his business. Ryan has made a point of not dwelling on the implosion that makes the Falcons a national punchline to this day.

Instead, Ryan maintains the same confident approach heading into every season. Going into 2019, however, he seems to have more swagger than usual regarding his team’s ability to contend for a title.

“The group of guys that we have, we have a locker room of competitive, hardworking, unselfish people, and I think it’s the people in our building that give us a great chance to get back and obviously hopefully win a Super Bowl,” Ryan said.

“We’ve got a great coaching staff. We’ve got a combination of guys that are going to try and put the players that we have in the best position to be successful.”

Ryan didn’t forecast leading the league in scoring, although he knows the offense is more than capable of being explosive with Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and the rest of the crew. He didn’t promise the defense would be a top-10 unit or the team would avoid the injury bug, as those are factors far beyond his control. But Ryan knows it’s comforting watching guys such as Freeman, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen making their way back from season-ending injuries.

Ryan certainly feels at ease with Dirk Koetter back as his offensive coordinator. (Koetter was the coordinator in Atlanta from 2012 to ’14 before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015.) The quarterback sees the commitment the team has made to protecting him — Ryan was sacked 42 times in 2018, the second-highest total of his career — with the additions of offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary (both drafted in the first round) and free agents James Carpenter and Jamon Brown.

Ryan also fully understands competing for a title starts with taking care of business in the division. The Falcons finished second in the NFC South last season with a disappointing 7-9 record. The New Orleans Saints won it last year running away with a 13-3 mark. The Falcons have won the NFC South four times since it formed back in 2002, making it to one Super Bowl (2016) over that span.

“It’s always tough,” Ryan said of the division. “Drew [Brees] is always tough. New Orleans has a great offense. They play really good defense. Cam Jordan is one of the best players in the league on the defensive side of the ball.”

Carolina, awaiting Cam Newton’s full recovery from shoulder surgery, also finished with a 7-9 mark last season and made some additions this offseason, most notably six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He has terrorized interior offensive linemen over the years and could be a massive test for Lindstrom, projected to be the starting right guard.

“Gerald McCoy went from being a problem in one place to being a problem in another place,” Ryan said. “Different problem for a different team. He’s a great player that’s been added into an already great defense. He’s going to be difficult to go against, that’s for sure. He always has been.

“Absolutely he’ll be a test for [Lindstrom], he along with Kawann Short. The whole group that they have, that’s going to be a strong test for our interior guys.”

Ryan won’t discount the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished 5-11 with Koetter as the head coach last season but have a new boss in Bruce Arians.

“Tampa is tough,” Ryan said. “[Ndamukong] Suh is a veteran player who plays at a high level that’s an interior problem for offenses. That’s another tough guy that we have to go against.

“At the end of the day, it’s about us, though. We respect those guys and appreciate what they do, but our focus is on how good can we play and how good of a team can we become because we have all the pieces we need to be successful.”

The schedule won’t make things any easier for the Falcons. Six of their first nine opponents are playoff teams from a year ago, and four of their first six games are on the road.

“The schedule is what it is,” Ryan said. “They’re going to give it to you, and it’s your job to approach it and deal with it. Other than basically two games, it’s slated who you’re going to play depending on division.”

It all starts Sept. 8 with a game at Minnesota against a Vikings team that finished 8-7-1 last season and boasted a top-10 scoring defense and top-10 total defense.

“They’re going to be good,” Ryan said of the Vikings. “That’s a tough place. It’s a good defense. It’s going to be loud, which is challenging for our offense. That’s something that we’ll have to be prepared for and ready to go, especially with it being an opening game. Sometimes, you get a feel for [noise] as the year goes on, but it’s going to be critical for us to be operating at a high level when we get up there because it’s going to take our best effort to get a win.”

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Saints rule out starting LBs A.J Klein (knee), Kiko Alonso (thigh) vs. 49ers

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METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints have ruled out two of their starting linebackers before Sunday’s critical NFC showdown vs. the San Francisco 49ers.

Strongside linebacker A.J Klein (knee) and middle linebacker Kiko Alonso (thigh) were both injured during last Thursday’s win at Atlanta. The timing is especially unfortunate because the 49ers have the NFL’s No. 2-ranked rushing offense at 148.0 yards per game.

And because both teams are 10-2, Sunday’s game could wind up determining the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage.

The Saints’ run defense, meanwhile, ranks No. 3 in the league, allowing just 88.6 yards per game. They will likely count on veteran backup Craig Robertson as one replacement starter. Backups Stephone Anthony and newly signed Manti Te’o could also help fill the void.

On a positive injury note, the Saints’ standout left tackle Terron Armstead is listed as questionable after he returned to practice on a limited basis all week with his ankle injury. Even if he is not ready to return yet Sunday, it’s a good sign that he will be back soon.

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Giants expect Golden Tate, Evan Engram to face Eagles

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate was cleared from the concussion protocol and will play Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tate, who is second on the Giants with four receiving touchdowns, missed last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers. He is set to play his first game with quarterback Eli Manning after missing the first four weeks of the season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Manning is expected to return to the starting lineup for the first time since Week 2 in place of an injured Daniel Jones, who has a high ankle sprain.

Manning should have a full complement of weapons at his disposal. Tight end Evan Engram is also expected to return after missing three games with a foot injury.

It would mark the first time this season that all the Giants’ pass-catching weapons (Tate, Engram, running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Sterling Shepard) are on the field together. The Giants (2-10) are trying to snap an eight-game skid.

Tate returns just in time to face his former team. He was traded from the Detroit Lions to the Philadelphia Eagles midway through last season. He signed with the Giants this offseason as a free agent after catching the game-winning touchdown in a playoff win for the Eagles earlier this year.

The veteran receiver has been productive in his seven games with the Giants. Tate has 36 catches for 450 yards and four touchdowns.

But he was injured late in a loss to the Chicago Bears. He was diagnosed with a concussion the day after that game, in which he took several big hits. The Giants say the concussion occurred when his head slammed into the ground while making a touchdown grab late in the fourth quarter. He remained in the game for the final drive.

Engram leads the Giants with 44 receptions. He also has 467 yards and three touchdown grabs in eight games.

But Engram hasn’t played since hurting his foot late in a Week 9 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He recently said it was a two-to-four week injury.

Engram has missed three games and had the bye week to recover. He’s been a limited participant in practice this week, but told ESPN he’s done way more than the past few weeks.

“All indications are he’ll be ready to go,” coach Pat Shurmur said earlier Friday.

The same can’t be said for Jones. He didn’t practice Friday even though he ditched the walking boot on his right foot. He spent most of his time on the sideline working with a trainer. Shurmur considered it “very unlikely” the rookie quarterback would play despite all the Giants’ weapons finally being together.

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Colts to be without Adam Vinatieri, T.Y. Hilton vs. Bucs

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INDIANAPOLIS — Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay because of a left knee injury, coach Frank Reich said Friday.

Vinatieri, who said he started feeling pain in his knee last week, did not practice Thursday or Friday after being a limited participant Wednesday. It will be the first game he has missed due to injury since 2009.

Reich said they have not talked about putting Vinatieri on the season-ending injured reserve list, instead classifying the kicker as being “week to week” with four games left in the regular season.

Vinatieri, 46, dealt with a similar knee problem during training camp.

He has made a career-low 68% of his field goal attempts this season and missed 14 kicks — eight field goals and six extra points. Two of Vinatieri’s misses — against the Chargers and Steelers — cost the Colts games.

Chase McLaughlin, who the Colts claimed off waivers Wednesday, will handle the kicking duties. McLaughlin has played in seven games this season, four with the Chargers and three with the San Francisco 49ers. He was 13-for-17 on field goals and made all 15 of his extra point attempts.

The Colts, who are on a two-game losing streak, also ruled out receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) and cornerback Kenny Moore (ankle) for Sunday’s game.

The Colts will get some help on offense, as running back Marlon Mack (hand), who has rushed for a team-high 862 yards, and rookie receiver Parris Campbell (hand) are expected to return, barring any setback after missing two and four games, respectively.

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