Monday May 30th, 2016 12:57AM

Falcons, Ryan rolling into showdown with champs

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Matt Ryan and the Falcons are on a roll, just in time for a much-anticipated visit to New Orleans.

Ryan passed for 225 yards and three touchdowns as the Falcons warmed up for the Saints with last week's 41-7 win over Arizona.

It was an impressive display of the offensive potential that led some to predict the Falcons can unseat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the NFC South. It also was an important statement for an offense that was held without a touchdown in Atlanta's 15-9 overtime loss at Pittsburgh to open the season.

"I think our confidence has been high all year," Ryan said. "Obviously, Week 1 we didn't have the result we wanted, but our confidence never wavered. We came out and got a better result."

The Falcons won easily last week despite relying on some backups.

Starting receiver Michael Jenkins missed the first two games with a shoulder injury. The Falcons lost their top two running backs, Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood, in the first half against Arizona.

Turner, who had a groin injury, is expected to start. Norwood was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday with a knee injury.

Jason Snelling stepped in with 129 yards rushing, 57 yards receiving and three touchdowns. He was named NFC offensive player of the week on Wednesday.

This is an important week for Ryan, the third-year quarterback. He threw three interceptions in a 35-27 loss in his last game at New Orleans. The Saints swept two games from the Falcons last season.

Ryan missed the Saints' 26-23 win in Atlanta late in the season with a thumb injury. He said the Saints made the biggest plays to win the two close games.

"That's what separates teams in this league, making those plays in key situations, and New Orleans has done a great job with that last year and at the beginning of this season," Ryan said. "The focus for us is going to be trying to make those plays when the opportunity presents itself."

Ryan's completion percentage dipped slightly in 2009 after he was named NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2008. Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday he has seen Ryan improve each year.

"I have been following him and I have a lot of respect for Matt," Brees said. "I think he's a very talented young player and I think he's a student of the game as well. He wants to be great so he's doing all the little things to kind of work toward that.

"You see his progress over the last three years. ... Obviously for a quarterback in this league there's a learning curve and a maturation process you have to go through, and he's a guy who had success very early on and he just continues to get better."

Ryan completed 21 of 32 passes against Arizona while matching his career high with three TD passes.

Turner had 75 yards rushing on only nine carries before leaving with the groin injury.

"I'm not worried about it," Turner said Wednesday. "I didn't tear it or anything so I'll be ready this week."

Coach Mike Smith said Snelling will be Turner's top backup against the Saints. Antone Smith, who was inactive the first two weeks, moves up as the No. 3 running back.

"Every time Jason Snelling has been handed an opportunity to significantly participate and contribute, he has stepped up at the plate," Mike Smith said. "... Jason is just a darn good football player. He makes plays in the running game and he makes plays in the passing game."

The Falcons have a run-first philosophy, but there is balance in the offense. Roddy White is tied with the Cowboys' Austin Miles for the NFL lead with 20 catches.

White said the Falcons must establish the run and keep Brees off the field.

"We've got to ball-hog the ball this week," White said. "That's our No. 1 concern. We've got to get our ground game going early and make big plays, make big, explosive plays in the passing game."

Tight end Tony Gonzalez said Ryan has the tools to keep up with Brees in a high-scoring game.

"I think if we have to pass the ball and it becomes somewhat a shootout, I think we've got the guys," Gonzalez said. "We've got Matt, we've got Roddy, we've got Jenkins maybe coming back. We can go out there and make those plays. We've done it before and there's no reason we can't do it again. We're up for the challenge."

Jenkins, who had 50 catches for 635 yards last season, practiced for the first time this season on Wednesday.

"We're going to bring him along slowly," Smith said.

Safety Erik Coleman, who missed the Arizona game with a knee injury, was held out Wednesday.
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