from Ryan is necessary.
"It's part of my job to be around the ball and try to protect the ball carriers whenever I have the chance," Blalock said. "It goes without saying."
Smith managed a laugh on Monday when asked if there will be a new "no airborne" rule for Ryan, a quick learner. Smith, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave already have emphasized this latest lesson to Ryan.
"We talked about it," Smith said. "I know Mike and Matt talked about it, and I know that Bill and Matt talked about it — but we'll keep those private."
Said Ryan on Sunday: "I can't be making those mistakes as we come down the line. It's something you have to learn from, but I am thankful for Justin."
Smith said Blalock was in position because he hustled on the play.
"That's two weeks in a row Justin has made big plays by running to the football," Smith said. "That's something we preach all the time to our football team. When the ball carrier is tackled, if you're not carrying the ball, you need to be around the pile in case something happens."
Smith only smiled when told Blalock hinted he was running to the end zone simply to celebrate a touchdown.
"That's part of it, too, when it's in the end zone," Smith said.
No one thought the Falcons could return to the playoffs only one year after disgraced quarterback Michael Vick was sent to federal prison, convicted of funding a dogfighting operation.
New general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Smith cleaned house, releasing or trading such veterans as Warrick Dunn, Rod Coleman, Alge Crumpler and DeAngelo Hall.
Smith paused on Monday when asked if he believed before the season a playoff berth was possible.
"I thought it was a possibility, but I didn't put a whole lot of stock in it," Smith said. "As the season progressed it became apparent to me in the way this league was falling out in wins and losses, I thought if we could get to December and be close that we'd have a chance."
Losses by Dallas on Saturday and Tampa Bay and Carolina on Sunday helped pave the way for the Falcons to clinch the playoff spot. Now comes the drive for the first-round bye.
The Falcons, 6-1 at the Georgia Dome, will be favored Sunday against the 2-13 Rams. The Saints will be playing the Panthers at the same time in New Orleans.
There is more reason for Falcons' fans to hope for a first-round bye: No NFC South team has lost at home against a division opponent this season.
"I think the guys will be up for the challenge," Smith said. "They know if we play well and get the outcome we desire, there's a lot out there (in the playoff standings) that can change.
"There's still a lot that's going to change in how this tournament is put together," Smith added.