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Early Bird Report: The revealing story behind Matt Ryan's cause

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes the story behind Matt Ryan’s choice for My Cause, My Cleats as well as the Falcons’ spot in the power rankings.

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Week 13 power rankings:

The Falcons have tumbled in the power rankings during their three-game losing streak, and they remain low after their loss on Thanksgiving night. Be sure to check out Matt Tabeek’s Wildly Important NFL Power Rankings.

NFL.com: No. 20 (Last week: No. 17)

“The Falcons did not look like a team playing for its playoff life against the Saints on Thanksgiving night. Never mind that they were facing a superior club and suffered a couple of weird turnovers (the Calvin Ridley fumble was the butter on the roll). The sense of urgency just wasn't there. With over half the fourth quarter gone and New Orleans up three touchdowns, Atlanta took its sweet time on offense. Rodney Harrison (no relation) pointed it out immediately. At 4-7, and with the Ravens, Packers and Panthers coming up, securing that wild-card spot will be awfully tough.”

CBS Sports: No. 23 (LW: No. 21)

“They are done now after losing to the Saints. Injuries crippled the defense all season long.”

ESPN: No. 20 (LW: No. 20)

“Week 14 at Green Bay. Beside the fact that the defense has to contend with Aaron Rodgers, being outdoors in the cold at Lambeau Field probably won't help Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense.”

MMQB: No. 20 (LW: No. 17)

“The Falcons are pretty much cooked now. They’ve been a team our poll has ranked well above what their record would indicate all season, but that appears to be crashing down to earth too.”

SI.com: Matt Ryan’s cause: Care and support for preterm babies

Matt Ryan learned first-hand last year how scary pregnancy complications can be. His wife, Sarah, was admitted to the hospital 24 weeks into her pregnancy, and it was possible she was going to give birth very prematurely. Thankfully, that did not happen. But their twin sons, Marshall and Johnny, were still premature, coming into the world nearly 31 weeks into Sarah’s pregnancy.

That experience will be reflected in Ryan’s choice to represent March of Dimes and Northside Hospital Miracle Babies for the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats initiative on Sunday. The Falcons’ quarterback will be wearing a pair of blue cleats, which will then be auctioned off after the game with the proceeds going to both organizations.

Jenny Vrentas helped capture Ryan’s story in an enlightening piece on SI.com, which I encourage all Falcons fans to read.

ESPN: Lamar Jackson, Calvin Ridley still rooting for each other

The Falcons will face one of the most intriguing rookies in the league on Sunday when they face Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, Atlanta has a pretty exciting offensive rookie of its own in Calvin Ridley. Turns out the two have a pretty strong history with one another.

As ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes, Ridley and Jackson grew up playing alongside of each other down in Florida, and that connection has carried on as the two rookies continue to make plays on Sundays.

"Just seeing him when we were younger, it was always hard to guard him because he's got moves, he's got speed," Jackson told McClure. "His acceleration, you can't catch him. I haven't seen anyone catch him from behind, like running him down. His explosiveness that he brings to the game is ridiculous. One man can't lock him down. I've never heard of it; not with Calvin."

Jackson has started the last two games for the Ravens, throwing for 328 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He’s also run the ball 65 times for 329 yards and two touchdowns this season. Meanwhile, Ridley has caught 47 passes for 625 yards and eight touchdowns.

To read the rest of McClure’s piece on the history between Jackson and Ridley, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

AJC: Senat’s inactive status was ‘unexpected’

Deadrin Senat missed the first game of his NFL career on Thursday when the Falcons made him inactive prior to taking on the New Orleans Saints. When asked about the decision, Senat said it was unexpected but that he respected the coaches’ decision.

“I mean, it was unexpected,” Senat said, according to the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter. “I wanted to play. I don’t think I missed a college game in my career without being injured or hurt or being kicked out of a game. So, it was different.

“[Coach Quinn] came to me and told me the same thing. He wanted pass rushers in the game and I said ‘Yes sir’ and that was it.”

To read the rest of Ledbetter’s report, click here.

AJC: Five things Falcons must focus on down the stretch

At 4-7, the Falcons have the slimmest of chances to reach the postseason. With the playoffs a long shot at this point, what should Atlanta focus on in its final games of the season?

D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a list of five things to pre-occupy the Falcons down the stretch. First on his list: getting the run game going.

“After rushing for 154 yards in a win over Washington on Nov. 11, the Falcons have been held to 178 rushing yards in the three losses to Cleveland, Dallas and New Orleans,” Ledbetter writes.

The run game was a topic of conversation during Dan Quinn’s conference call the day after the Falcons’ loss to the Saints.

“So it was well below the line,” Quinn said. “Obviously, when you have a run game performance like we did, there's a lot to look at and a lot that needs our attention and our work because that was considerably below the line.”

To read the rest of Ledbetter’s areas for the Falcons to focus, click here.

ESPN: Falcons need to start looking ahead to next season

While Ledbetter provides five things for the Falcons to lean into over the last five games, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure believes it’s time to look past 2018, altogether.

“The final five games of 2018, beginning with next week's home contest with the Baltimore Ravens, should be used as an evaluation for coaches and players alike,” McClure writes. “Despite the 4-7 record, Quinn doesn't appear to be on the hot seat with a three-year extension in hand through 2022. But like Ryan said about the players, Quinn will have to look at himself in the mirror, too, to see where he can coach better …

“In other words, there are a lot of problems the Falcons need to fix. Not being in the playoff field will give them a jump on resolving those issues.”

To check out the rest of McClure’s piece, click here.

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