Falcons notes: Smith believes that Ryan has reached elite status

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 block. But Matt’s had a very good season.”

Ryan passed for a career-high 373 yards in the 45-16 loss to New Orleans on Monday night. He also tied his career highs with 32 completions and 52 pass attempts.

Ryan already has surpassed George in one category. He has passed for more than 300 yards six times this season, breaking George’s old record of four 300-yard games in 1995.

However, the Falcons are just 2-4 this when Ryan throws for more than 300 yards. He has thrown for more than 300 in wins over Tennessee (316) and Carolina (320) and in losses to Chicago (329), Tampa Bay (330) and New Orleans twice (351 and 373).

Ryan, who went to the Pro Bowl after guiding the Falcons to the NFC South title last season, has completed 339 of 557 passes and is within striking distance of his records of 357 completions and 571 attempts that he set last season.

White closing in on 100

Wide receiver Roddy White, who led the league last season with 115 catches, is closing in on the century mark.

White has 96 catches for 1,227 yards and is closing in on his second consecutive 100-catch season.

Rookie wide receiver Julio Jones, who has five 100-yard receiving games, needs 117 yards to give the Falcons two 1,000-yard receivers.

Meier’s appeal heard

The league reviewed the appeal of Falcons wide receiver Kerry Meier’s $20,000 fine last week. He was fined for a hit on Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler.

Meier was fined for an illegal blindside block to the head area Nov. 27 during a Falcons’ punt return. Loeffler broke a bone in his lower back on the hit and is out for the season. No penalty was called.

“I felt pretty good about the case that we put together,” Meier said. “I think we made a legitimate argument about what took place.”

Meier said the league will respond within two weeks.

Injury report

Defensive end Ray Edwards (knee) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (toe) and Meier (groin) did not practice.

Veterans Todd McClure, John Abraham and Tony Gonzalez returned to practice as full participants after taking Wednesday off.

Linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle), who was limited Wednesday, fully participated.

Wide receiver Harry Douglas (groin and shoulder), cornerback Brent Grimes (knee), running back Michael Turner (groin), tight end Michael Palmer (knee) and Jones (ankle) were limited in practice.