The Union Recorder

Local Sports

January 22, 2013

Falcons still hurting after coming up shy of title

(Continued)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —

The injury won't require surgery, and Ryan should be fully recovered in three to four weeks, according to Smith, in plenty of time for the start of the offseason program in April.

Ryan dropped out of Sunday's Pro Bowl, but Smith said the quarterback would've been able to play — though certainly with some discomfort — if the Falcons had advanced to the Super Bowl, which is two weeks away. That turned out to be a moot point.

Even with the disappointment of the final game, Ryan became the team's undisputed leader and most irreplaceable player as the Falcons shifted from a physical running game to a wide-open passing attack. The fifth-year quarterback had a career season, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns, with just 14 interceptions.

"We knew we were not going to be a team that has a running back that carries the ball 300 times," Smith said. "We did a good job in that transition, and it starts with Matt."

Roddy White has another big year (92 receptions, 1,351 yards, seven touchdowns) and second-year receiver Julio Jones (79 catches, 1,198 yards, 10 TDs) earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Jones closed the season with 11 catches, two touchdowns and a franchise playoff-record 182 yards receiving against the 49ers.

"Julio took a gigantic step in his maturation process along with Matt," Smith said. "Both guys did a really nice job for us this year."

But, in all likelihood, Ryan won't have his favorite receiver next season. The 36-year-old Gonzalez had an age-defying season (team-leading 93 receptions, 930 yards, eight TDs) but said all along this would likely be his final season. He sounded even more sure about retirement after the loss to San Francisco, referring to his 16-year career in the past tense.

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