Falcons' Matt Ryan aiming to get his team to .500 with win over his hometown Eagles

(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file photo)
(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file photo)
Posted: September 15, 2011

Hey, have you heard about the hometown kid who makes it to the NFL and has to lead his team against the one he rooted for as a youth?

Matt Ryan has heard the story, too, and he sounds ready to move on.

Ryan, from Exton, has seen his Falcons play the Eagles every year of his career, now in its fourth season. He missed the 2009 home game because of injury but has twice played the Eagles in Philadelphia. So when he was asked - again - about facing the team he once cheered, Ryan said he was treating it like any other game.

"I grew up an Eagles fan and from that perspective it's always a little bit unique. But having been around for four years now and having played a lot of games, you start to get into the routine of playing against different teams and each game being very important," Ryan said Wednesday as the Falcons prepared to host the Eagles. "You learn how difficult it is week-to-week, so I think I'm in a lot different place than I was four years ago."

The Penn Charter and Boston College grad has plenty of Philadelphia-area family going to Atlanta this weekend, but his focus is not on his childhood favorites but on getting the Falcons up to .500 after a bad opening-week loss.

"It's a big game for us because it's the next game," Ryan said. "One thing I've learned in a short time in the league is that each game counts one, and they're all important."

Ryan threw for 319 yards in a 30-12 loss to Chicago on Sunday, but he was intercepted once and had a fumble returned for a touchdown. He could lead the Falcons offense to only two field goals. Their one touchdown came from the defense.

So while story lines swirl, the reality for Ryan is that he needs to play better for the Falcons to reach their expectations. After going 13-3 last season, the Falcons have big dreams, much like the Eagles. But their season began much like last one ended, in a blowout loss.

"We understand that we didn't put our best out there last week," Ryan said. "You have to learn from it. You have to put it behind you, and you have to get back to preparing and doing everything in the course of the week so you feel good Sunday night."

After taking a 31-17 beatdown in Philadelphia last year, the Falcons won nine of their last 10 games en route to the NFC South title. Ryan hopes for a similar turnaround after last week's defeat.

"A lot of times in tough losses, you learn a lot," Ryan said. "It heightens focus, and I think last year we were able to do that. I think we were able to learn from that loss."

The Falcons have lost to the Eagles every time the two have met in Ryan's career. In the two games Ryan started, he has thrown four touchdowns and three interceptions.

This game carries a slightly different twist, with Ryan facing off directly against Michael Vick for the first time.

Their careers paths are intertwined. Ryan became a Falcon after Vick was sent to prison, leaving the team needing a new quarterback. Ryan arrived to help save a franchise struggling after Vick's departure. The hometown kid acknowledged the story but pressed past it.

"Mike was obviously a great player down here, a special, unique talent," Ryan said, "but he's moved on, and I think we have as an organization as well."

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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