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Transcripts: Mike Smith and Matt Ryan Interviews

Head coach Mike SmithOn the injury report:

"We had four guys that will be on our injury report. We had two guys that didn't practice today and that was CB Asante Samuel and S William Moore. William Moore has a hamstring and Asante Samuel has a shoulder. DT Peria Jerry was back today as we said yesterday that he would be back. He was limited in his participation as well as RB Michael Turner. Michael Turner has an elbow that he sustained in the ballgame Thursday night."

On having protection issues against Carolina last game:

"It was a group effort in terms of our protection. We gave up way too many hits and way too many sacks on the quarterback. There were times we needed to get the ball out. There were times we didn't protect well and there were times we needed to break off routes. That was one of the probably biggest takeaways from that game on the offensive side of the ball. We had a turnover there in the red zone as well. Turnovers in the red zone are not good. Red zone efficiency is something that we've been talking about almost all season long about getting better in our red zone efficiency."

On protecting against DE Charles Johnson:

"Charles Johnson is an outstanding pass rusher. I think it shows by what they did in terms of re-signing him as a free agent. He's explosive off the football and you've got to make sure you don't always put guys on an island. You've got to design your protections at times to give him assistance, at times to have routes to get the ball out of the quarterbacks hands as well. The other guy is not too bad either. I think he's got eight sacks. Hardy has eight and Johnson's got eight and a half so both of those guys have been very productive. We've noticed and done some things differently in the sub package where they're moving Hardy down inside and he's rushing over the offensive guard. Then they've brought in Alexander who is a rookie defensive end from Oklahoma. It's a little different configuration from what we saw in game four at the beginning of the season."

On that game being a turning point for both teams:

"I don't know if it was a turning point. I think it was the first time we had to show our resiliency and at the end of the ballgame. We did not play our best game obviously. We haven't even talked about what they were able to do on the offensive side. They ran the ball effectively. The quarterback had a long run early in the ballgame that got the yardage and there was probably one other explosive run in the ballgame that did not give us the type of day that we wanted to have. That's kind of been the theme for us throughout the season in giving up those explosive runs. You can't do that because this team can create explosives, not only in the run game but the pass game as well. I think the pass game gets set up by the run game off the play action."

On the reason this team is so resilient and wins so many close games:

"A lot of it has to do with the makeup of the guys and the mentality that you have to have. When you're playing games that are eight points or less 50 percent of the time you better have the mindset that most games are going to be one score games. We work on that situationally all through training camp. Put the guys in certain situations and I think they're very aware of how we want to attack it. I think they're very aware of the situations of timeouts, how many scores that we need. For the most part, we've done a really good job."

On what makes QB Cam Newton so difficult to defend:

"He's big. He's 6'5 and a half, 245 pounds, and he runs very well on the clock. He's hard to bring down. I think he's a guy that can run both inside and outside as he did as a rookie in terms of the record in terms of scoring touchdowns. They can run him on quarterback isolations. They can run him on the read-option. They can run him on quarterback sweeps and that doesn't even count the times he takes off and scrambles when he drops back to pass. He's a guy that you've got to account for in the run game like I've said. Playing that type of offense, you have to commit one guy more to the run because most times quarterbacks distribute the ball to the running backs. In this offense they run it."

On Newton playing better these last four game:

"They've looked real good. In fact, I think over the last five games nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He's taking care of the football. I really like the receivers. I think WR Steve Smith is one of the best receivers that's ever played. He's one of the, in my mind, the most competitive guy. He is a competitor, not only in the pass game but the run game. Then WR Brandon LaFell if he plays in the game. We don't know right now. He did not finish the game last week. He's having a good year, too."

On TE Greg Olsen:

"Olsen is a guy that is an integral part of their attack. He kind of mans the inside routes like those pass catching tight ends do now in the offenses that we see in the passing game."

Quarterback Matt RyanOn Carolina always being a tough game:

"It's pretty much always a tough matchup with them. Last time we played them earlier in the season it came down to the wire. They played us defensively really well. We know going into it they're a physical bunch and the front four they do great job of rushing the passer. We're going to have our work cut out for us."

On them being one of the more physical teams that the Falcons have played against:

"I think so. Pretty much every time we play them it's a really physical game and we're going to have to live up to our end of the bargain."

On the break being good from a physical standpoint or a mental standpoint:

"A little bit of both. Any time you have an opportunity, especially this late in the season, to have a couple of days off just to get away from it. It helps the body. It helps the mind and I think everybody feels really good."

On the days of celebrating a division championship being over because of the recent success:

"You never want to take it lightly because it's hard to do. At the same time, we talk all the time that this is one step in the process and we've got more stairs to climb and hopefully we're able to do that. We need to focus on the next thing. When you hit a goal and you reach something you cross it off the list and keep going. I think from everybody from the top down has done a great job of that."

On the lessons learned from how hard it is to win the division and how hard it is to win in the playoffs:

"In my experience, the one thing you learn is it's hard to win week in and week out regardless of whether it's regular season or postseason. It's just a difficult thing to do, so you have to enjoy them and you have to understand what it takes to get there. I think I've done a pretty good job of that, but as a team we've done a really good job with that."

On the biggest difference from college to the NFL is how competitive every game is no matter what the record of the teams are:

"There is no telling. The quote 'any given Sunday' is true. You can toss records out. There is such parity amongst the teams in our League that every week you play how the games come down to the wire. I think it shows in the statistics. It's some crazy percentage of games and even for Carolina this year. I think they've had ten games that are within one score, won or lost. It's just a really competitive League."

On playing against a lot of young guys playing for their jobs this week:

"That's one of the things that you learn as you play in this League, regardless of what a team's record is. You're going to get a good effort from them, especially against a good young football team. They have a lot of talent and they play hard. We're going to have to match that."

On the physicality of all division games:

"In the NFC South every time you line up against one of your opponents it's a physical matchup for 60 minutes. Carolina is one of the more physical teams we play all year. Their front four is as good as really any we go against. They do a great job rushing the passer, but they're also stout against the run."

On the importance of having a home game in the playoffs:

"It's something we want to work towards. At this point, our focus has to be on just knocking one more win off this week. Eventually, when we look up maybe at the end of the season we'll have enough to get that done. We'll worry about it right then."

On struggling on offense against the Saints:

"We just missed on a couple of opportunities. We had some third downs that we fell short by a yard or two on a handful of those. It's just the little things like that that get you into a rhythm. We weren't able to get that first first down in a drive that gets you going. We have to do a better job of executing. We weren't at our best in terms of execution last week."

On what it is about this team that helps win close games:

"Experience has a lot to do with it. When you have guys that have played and been in all kinds of situations, you learn that it's going to be like that week in and week out and you have to find ways to get it done. The reasons we've had a lot of success this year is we've found different ways to get it done. It hasn't always shaped out the same way. It's a different person and different unit stepping up each week and that's helped."

On CB Chistopher Owens and CB Robert McClain:

"Our young guys in the secondary have done a great job. Chris Owens is a guy who's been around and been extremely productive for us in special teams the last couple of years, but has had an opportunity to play corner the last couple of weeks. He's a guy that's just gotten better day in and day out and you see it out on the practice field. He's very diligent in how he prepares. Then Bobby Mac (Robert McClain), he had a great training camp. He's come in and he's kind of a quieter guy on the field, but he makes plays. That's the one thing that stuck out to everybody during training camp was when you went against him he didn't back down from anybody. He's got a quiet confidence to him and he's playing at a high level."

On rebounding from 165 yard game against the Saints:

"I don't worry too much about the statistics or those type of things. One of the areas we have to do a better job is third downs. If we can convert third downs better, we'll have a better chance."

On knowing which specific things you need to work on to be successful:

"You're constantly trying to do that as the year goes on regardless of what the month is or what the time of year is. You're trying to find ways to be better. I think we have target areas where we need to be more productive. I think our red zone touchdown percentage can be better than what it is. That's an area that we've been striving to get better at. We've done a great job of getting in there quite a bit this year. We just need to keep scoring touchdowns when we have the opportunity. Then specifically last week, we've been pretty good on third down all year. Last week was not our best effort, so that's something we want to improve this week."

On what impresses him the most about RB Jacquizz Rodgers:

"His effort. There is a lot of things I'm impressed with by him, but I think his effort is really good. For a smaller guy, he's strong, he's physical, he's shifty, but he's non-stop and he's relentless. He does it in the pass game when he catches the ball. He does it when he runs the football. He does it when he pass protects. There is no let down."

On Rodgers wheel route from the Carolina game last year:

"That was a great catch. It was  great play and it was one of the bigger plays he made for us last season. I think everybody was confident in him when he first got here. When we got out on the practice field and you see what he's capable of doing catching the football and running routes I think everybody knew he was going to be a good player for us."

On what he can do more as a quarterback to slow down the pass rush from DE Charles Johnson:

"When we watched tape from the last time, I've got to get rid of the ball in some different situations. I put our offensive line in some tough spots. That's something that I need to focus on. I think we'll do a good job of having an understanding of where he's going to be and accounting for that. He's a great player and we need to do a better job than last time."

On LB Luke Kuechly:

"He's playing great. He really is. He's a guy who's a rookie that if you don't get a good fit in the run game then he makes a lot of tackles. He's extremely productive for them. He's playing at a different spot than we saw last time. He's playing at the mike linebacker spot and I think he's doing a really good job. He's good against the run. He's good at defending the pass, too. He's probably a better athlete than I thought and he's playing at a high level."

On the Panthers playing very tough against the Falcons: "Anytime you play in the division you can throw records out. It's always going to be a tough matchup."

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