FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — As the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line sees it, there’s no need to antagonize Ndamukong Suh.
Last year’s discord in Detroit left the Falcons and Lions bickering at each other and accusing the other side of bad sportsmanship.
Atlanta has a simple goal heading into Saturday’s rematch at Detroit.
The Falcons want to keep Suh, the Lions’ high-strung defensive tackle, from touching quarterback Matt Ryan.
“It’s not going to easy, and we know that,” left guard Justin Blalock said. “He’s a handful for anyone they face, but I think we’re smart enough to know that nothing good will come from stirring the Lions up before the game.”
Each team complained about the other following Atlanta’s seven-point victory last year.
Falcons center Todd McClure and receiver Roddy White said that Suh and left end Cliff Avril were taunting Ryan when the quarterback was briefly injured.
Ryan returned to lead another scoring drive, but after the game Suh and linebacker Stephen Tulloch complained that Atlanta’s offensive line used dirty techniques that could injure opponents.
Now both sides seem unwilling to rehash the bitterness.
Suh said this week that “it’s a different year,” but the third-year tackle did not elaborate.
McClure added that he doubts there will be residual anger from either side, particularly with the stakes high for both teams.
“I don’t think so,” McClure said. “It’s a different game. I expect they’re going to be ready to play. Suh’s a good player, and he’s a tough guy to block, so we’ll be ready.”
The NFC South champion Falcons (12-2) can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory or a tie. Detroit (4-10) is desperate to snap a six-game losing streak one year after advancing to the postseason.
for the first time in a dozen years.
Atlanta recovered from an upset loss at Carolina two weeks ago by routing the New York Giants 34-0 last week at the Georgia Dome.
Ryan, who was sacked just once by New York, threw three touchdown passes, no interceptions and finished with a 142.6 passer rating.
In last year’s victory at Detroit, Ryan finished with a 63.1 passer rating, was sacked three times, hit six times and picked off twice. The Lions also had two interceptions and defended six passes.
Though there have been some proverbial hiccups this season for the offensive line, tight end Tony Gonzalez said that the five starters <0x2014> McClure, Blalock, left tackle Sam Baker, right tackle Tyson Clabo and rookie right guard Peter Konz <0x2014> have improved their protection of Ryan.
“With some things that have gone around here the last three years, it seems like they get blamed for a lot, but this year they’ve played outstanding football for us and stepped up big,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the key. You keep Matt clean, you keep him up on his feet, he’s going to be able to make some plays. They’ve done a good job of that.”
This time, Suh, Avril and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch will face the Falcons without defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
Fairley’s replacement is Sammie Hill, a fourth-year veteran who hasn’t been a regular starter since 2009.
“He’s a big, strong, good-looking football player,” Clabo said. “Everybody’s got some backups. He’s got some film. He’s a good player.”
Hill might not compare favorably to a talent like Fairley, the 15th overall draft pick last year, or Suh, the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, but McClure says he’s part of a deep line rotation and understands his role.
“They can create havoc in the running game with their penetration,” McClure said. “We’re going to have to be good on our double-teams and our single blocks when we get manned up on them and not get pushed back in the backfield.”
They also plan to be mindful if Suh struggles to keep his temper in check, a problem that last year resulted in his getting suspended two games by the NFL for stomping the arm of Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Just last month, Suh was fined $30,000 last month for kicking Houston quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin area.
Clabo sees no reason to taunt Suh and start a war of words.
“It’s hard enough facing this guy just based on his football talent alone,” Clabo said. “He gets paid as an interior pass rusher to push the pocket while their ends try to keep it from widening. We’ve had some issues with pressure up the middle this year, but we’re confident we can get the job done against Detroit.”