FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —
"That's at the core of what you have to do to be successful in football," Smith said. "That's what we need to work on. We don't have to worry about scheming this week, so we can really focus in on the fundamentals: tackling, blocking, running, catching. That's what our emphasis is this week."
The light week is giving three defensive starters — end John Abraham, cornerback Dunta Robinson and strong safety William Moore — extra time to recover from injuries.
Abraham (left ankle) and Robinson (concussion) were both hurt against Tampa Bay. Moore hasn't played since straining his hamstring against New Orleans five weeks ago, but Ryan is confident all three players will be ready when Atlanta hosts either No. 4 seed Washington, No. 5 seed Seattle or sixth-seeded Minnesota on Jan. 13.
"The one thing that I think has helped us is regardless of what's happened during the week with guys practicing or not practicing, we've been pretty close to 100 percent almost every game," Ryan said. "Our guys have been out there flying around. That's helped me a ton. I think our timing has stayed pretty consistent throughout the year."
Throughout the locker room, players cited maturity as the top reason this year's playoffs won't be a bust.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez, the NFL's No. 2 career leader in receptions, said second-year receiver Julio Jones, third-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers are not "pups anymore."
"They're not little babies," Gonzalez said. "These guys are seasoned veterans, and they know what it takes to go out and play well, and I think that's the biggest difference. I think that's definitely going to help us get over the hump."