Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass against the Carolina Panthers during the third quarter of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. AP
FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith believes that fourth-year quarterback Matt Ryan, who became the second quarterback in team history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season, has reached elite status among NFL quarterbacks.
“His maturation process continues to accelerate and he’s becoming, in my mind, one of the elite quarterbacks in this league,” Smith said.
Ryan needs 73 yards passing against Tampa Bay on Sunday to break the franchise’s record for most yards passing in a season.
Ryan, who has passed for 4,071 yards, is set to break the record of Jeff George, who passed for 4,143 yards in 1995.
“That’d be a great honor and an individual honor for Matt,” Smith said. “But again, all those individual honors take a bunch of other guys. There are guys that have got to catch the ball and guys that have got to
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