The Covington News - - Sports -

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.

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