Whereas last season's trip to Atlanta was the homecoming of quarterback Michael Vick, Sunday will mark the return of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is a native of Exton, Pa., attended the Penn Charter School in Philadelphia and is a self-proclaimed "Philly sports fan," excluding this weekend of course.
Playing professionally in one's hometown brings with it a plethora of emotions, as any athlete who's experienced it would admit. But Falcons head coach Mike Smith thinks Ryan's personality will help him stay focused on the action between the lines.
"I don't think it will be any different for Matt," Smith said. "This will be his second time playing back in Philadelphia. As a rookie, I think our fifth or six game of the season we were up there. I think you're always excited about playing in front of old friends and family, but Matt's a pretty level headed guy and I don't anticipate there being any issue."
For Ryan, the task this week has been to prepare for an Eagles defense that forced five turnovers last week in San Francisco. Well, that and secure tickets for countless relatives, friends and former teammates. But the "Ryan contingent" at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday isn't likely to diminish the crowd noise, and Ryan expects to face some difficult conditions amid his return to Philadelphia.
"It's not my first time, I did it my rookie season, so I know it's a great place to play," said Ryan, who is 24-11 in his two-plus years as a starter after being the No. 3 overall pick in 2008. "Obviously, one of the tougher challenges in the NFL is to go on the road and play in Philadelphia. They're a good football team we're going against, so we'll prepare accordingly. We'll practice for the noise that we're going to expect up there, and try and get ready to play.
"It's always exciting to get back to where you grew up, and it should be a fun weekend."
But once the game starts, it will be all business for two of the top teams in the NFC. With a win Sunday, the Eagles move to 4-2 with one game left before the bye week. Atlanta would be 5-1 with a victory against the Eagles, placing them as the front-runner in a competitive NFC South. So there's much on the line Sunday in South Philadelphia, and Smith knows this game will be a measuring stick for his football team.
"Historically, we know that the Philadelphia Eagles are a team that's been very, very successful and they've had sustainability basically throughout the 12 years that coach (Andy) Reid and his staff have been there," Smith said. "We aspire to be a team that's always in the conversation, a team that's relevant at the end of the season. That is how we've tried to approach this."
-- Posted by Josh Goldman, 2:00 p.m., October 13