PHILADELPHIA — Matt Ryan doesn’t plan to visit his favorite cheesesteak shops or saloon on this trip home.
It’s all business.
Ryan returns to Philadelphia when the Atlanta Falcons (6-0) play the Eagles (3-3) today at Lincoln Financial Field. The star quarterback grew up in nearby Exton, Pa., and was a three-sport captain at Penn Charter High School in Philadelphia.
“I won’t be able to hit any of the spots I want to when I come back for a game,” Ryan said, noting a few of the places he wishes he could visit. “I’ll get there sometime during the off-season I suppose.”
Ryan is 0-2 in his hometown, losing to the Eagles in 2008 and 2010. He led the Falcons back from a late 10-point deficit in a 35-31 win over Philadelphia in the Georgia Dome last year.
“At this point, it’s another game,” he said. “I’ve played up there a couple of times. I’ve been up there in college a couple of times. It’s nice, it really is. It’s nice to get back. There’s family there, which is always a good thing. But when you’re playing, it’s another week.”
Michael Vick, the former face of the Falcons franchise, looks at it the same, even though he’s trying to beat his former team for the first time as a starter since returning to the NFL in 2009. He was injured when the Eagles beat the Falcons in 2010 and left with a concussion last year.
“It’s just another game,” Vick said. “Last year going back to Atlanta, that was special. It added a little bit to the game. Now it’s two good teams going at each other. It’s nothing extra added to it.”
Vick was picked No. 1 overall by Atlanta in 2001 and established himself as one of the game’s most dynamic players in his six seasons there. He left the Falcons in disgrace following his imprisonment for his role in a dogfighting ring.
Coach Andy Reid’s job is on the line this season and Vick’s starting spot isn’t safe if he continues to commit turnovers.
“It’s a big game for us,” Vick said. “We’ve got to put it all together as a team and the teams that do that are the teams who are sitting at the top right now.”
Those last two losses were against Pittsburgh and Detroit. The defense blew fourth-quarter leads in each and that cost defensive coordinator Juan Castillo his job. Todd Bowles replaced Castillo and makes his debut against the Falcons.
“He’s a sharp defensive mind,” Reid said. “He’s a sharp guy. I think he’s got good communication skills with his players, he’s got respect from his players and now he has to go do it. So just like the players have to do it, I have to do it, and we all have to go do it. There’s no talking now. That takes care of that. You’ve got to perform.”
Both teams are coming off a bye, which favors the Eagles if you consider history. They’ve never lost a regular-season game after a week off under Reid, going 13-0 since 1999.
Perhaps that’s why the Eagles are 2½-point favorites against the NFL’s last unbeaten team. Another reason could be the quality of their opponents. The Falcons haven’t beaten a team with a winning record. On the other hand, the Eagles have wins over the NFC East-leading New York Giants and AFC North-leading Baltimore.
“We know we have 10 games left and we know that it’s not the end of the world, so guys are pretty confident,” wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “Just go out there and play ball. I think once you get into a whole panic mode and start worrying about everything else, I think everything kind of goes downhill. Once everyone remains poised and remains confident, I think we’ll be all right.
“I think we’ve underachieved, especially to our standards. Turnovers have killed us again early on in the season, so we have to step up and everyone has to go out there and be confident.”
For a pair of non-division teams, the Eagles and Falcons have developed quite a rivalry recently. This will be their 10th meeting in the last 11 years. That includes Philadelphia’s wins in a 2002 playoff game and the 2004 NFC championship game. Vick quarterbacked the Falcons in both those losses.
There have been other memorable games, too. In 2010, Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson received a $25,000 fine for his violent hit on DeSean Jackson that left both players with concussions. Robinson was fined another $25,000 for a hit on Maclin in Week 2 last year.
“I think there is a lot of familiarity between the two teams,” Ryan said. “Schemes have changed a little bit, but a lot of the players are the same. We know what they can do and they know what we can do. When you have games like this, it comes down to execution.”
Or one big play.
There may be no player more motivated to make that play than Asante Samuel. The four-time Pro Bowl cornerback was traded from the Eagles to the Falcons in April for a measly seventh-round pick. Samuel had 25 interceptions and returned three for touchdowns in four seasons in Philadelphia before the acquisitions of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie forced him out.
Samuel lashed out against management last year, but maintained a good relationship with Reid. The loquacious Samuel declined to speak to Philadelphia reporters before the game.
He’s busy helping the Falcons gameplan for the Eagles, and probably saving his energy for his typical trash-talking on the field.
“I think he can give us some insight on the players, not necessarily the scheme,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He can tell you about the receivers. He’s gone up against them all the time in one-on-ones. He can probably tell us about the DB’s and he has. We’re going to try and get as much information as we can. We try and be as collaborative as we can be. We’ll take all the information in that we can.”