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Falcons’ Ryan, 36, calls Bucs’ Brady, 44, ‘great motivation’

September 15, 2021 GMT
FILE- In this Jan. 3, 2021, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) congratulates Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) after an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. The 36-year-old Ryan says 44-year-old Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is “great motivation for all of us.” Atlanta plays at defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay this week. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken, File)
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FILE- In this Jan. 3, 2021, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) congratulates Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) after an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. The 36-year-old Ryan says 44-year-old Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is “great motivation for all of us.” Atlanta plays at defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay this week. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken, File)
1 of 5
FILE- In this Jan. 3, 2021, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) congratulates Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) after an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. The 36-year-old Ryan says 44-year-old Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is “great motivation for all of us.” Atlanta plays at defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay this week. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken, File)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Following a dismal offensive debut, the Atlanta Falcons seek comfort in knowing there are still 16 games to play.

Then again, how many more seasons are left for quarterback Matt Ryan, now 36? With an eye on Tom Brady, this week’s opposing quarterback in Tampa Bay, Ryan said he’s not worried about dwindling opportunities.

“I don’t think of it like that,” Ryan said Wednesday. “The guy we’re going against this week is 44, and he’s pretty good.”

Ryan’s contract runs through 2023. He’d have to extend his career to 2029 to still be playing at 44.

“I would love to if I’m as healthy as he is and playing as great as he is right now,” Ryan said of Brady. “That’s great motivation for all of us.”

Ryan, in his 14th season, has been unusually durable, missing only three games. He may need better blocking to make it through this season. He was sacked three times and the offense struggled in Sunday’s 32-6 opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

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The opener was regarded as an opportunity for a strong start for Atlanta, as both the Falcons and Eagles were coming off four-win seasons. Instead, the Falcons were hurt by an avalanche of mistakes, including 12 penalties for 99 yards. Two rookie left guards, Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman, combined for three false-start penalties.

There’s also this grim reminder from running back Mike Davis: “It’s not going to get any easier.”

With this week’s visit to defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay next on the schedule, the challenge for the offense only becomes more daunting. A Falcons offense held to 260 yards and two field goals by the Eagles will be asked to keep pace with a Tampa Bay attack that had four TD passes from Brady in last week’s 31-29 win over Dallas.

“I’ve played a lot of football against those guys on their defensive side of the ball so I know they’re very good and my message to our team is we have to be very good,” Ryan said. “We can be and let’s focus on that.”

Falcons first-year coach Arthur Smith said Wednesday he is considering options on his offensive line this week against the Buccaneers’ imposing defensive front led by Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea and William Gholston.

Mayfield was pushed to the starting spot when projected starting left guard Josh Andrews was placed on injured reserve with a broken hand on Sept. 1.

Smith said he wants to avoid rash decisions, especially with first-year starters.

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“There is a fine line between jerking the wheel and giving someone a chance to improve,” Smith said.

Smith noted that Mayfield played well in the first half before the Falcons fell too far behind and the Eagles picked up their pass rush.

“He’s willing, and like I said he’s a rookie in his first start against a really good front and he didn’t back down,” Smith said.

Ryan said Mayfield and Dalman did “exactly what you would want them to do” as a response to their second-half struggles against the Eagles.

“Come back in and watch it and learn from it and get back to work,” Ryan said.

“For some of these young guys it’s their first opportunity to have a full-game evaluation and learn from that and make the adjustments. I think it’s going to be good for them.”

NOTES: The Falcons added offensive line depth by signing veterans Danny Isidora and Bryan Witzmann to their practice squad. The team also signed defensive lineman Mike Pennel, while PK Elliott Fry, WR Juwan Green and TE David Wells were released from the practice squad. Isidora, a fifth-round pick by Minnesota in 2017, has played for the Vikings, Miami and Kansas City. Witzmann has appeared in 40 games, including 20 starts, for Kansas City, Chicago and Carolina. Pennel had 29 tackles for Kansas City last season.

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