Staff Writer Michael Cunningham contributed to this article.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who turned in a spectacular regular season in leading the team to an 11-5 record and the NFC South title, was named to the Associated Press’ All-Pro first-team Friday for the first time in his nine-year career.
Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 percent) for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history.
There were three rookies and 17 first-timers, including Ryan, who beat out New England quarterback Tom Brady on the first team. Also, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Vic Beasley were named first-team All-Pro.
Jones made the All-Pro team last season. It Beasley’s first selection. He led the NFL in sacks with 15.5.
Jones, who battled a toe injury late in the season, finished the regular season with 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns.
“It feels great, this is just a lot of hard work paying off,” Jones said. “The togetherness of the team, everything is just paying off. Everything is happening right for us.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn has been pleased with how hard Jones works.
“He totally leads that leadership for us,” Quinn said. “I guess I first noticed it maybe all the way back through the spring and we had some new people in, so he was really showing the standard that we wanted to compete with, and that’s how Mohamed Sanu watched that, that’s how Aldrick Robinson watched. Then when Taylor Gabriel came in and watched that. At receiver, what better person to model how hard you can go for it than Julio.”
Beasley was the eighth pick of the 2015 draft. He had four sacks as a rookie before having a breakthrough second season.
“I definitely made a lot of improvements,” Beasley said. “There is still a lot out there for me. I was happy to lead the league, and I feel like I made a lot of improvement.”
Beasley also forced six fumbles and scored a touchdown.
“That’s a good year in terms of going after the ball because it’s not like you just get them every time you go,” Quinn said. “It’s having awareness and timing, so not only has he improved as a pass rusher, he’s improved as a ball hawk, too.”
Ryan, who is also considered a favorite to win the league’s MVP award, wasn’t sure if this was his best season.
“I think I’ve played well,” Ryan said. “That’s kind of as much thought as you give to it. I think week in and week out you focus on delivering a winning performance individually so they can help your team get it done.”
Ryan has directed the Falcons to the playoffs in five seasons and to three NFC South titles.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of that collectively this year,” Ryan said. “I don’t think about it too much, in all honesty. You focus on trying to prepare well and trying to play well.”
Ryan is shy about focusing on individual awards.
“It’s obviously nice to be mentioned, for sure,” Ryan said. “That’s special. But at the end of the day we’ve got bigger things in front of us, and I’m excited about that. Getting to work this week, I think this week is an important week of practice for us.”
The Falcons have a bye this week and are set to face the highest seed to advance from the NFC wild-card round at 4:35 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Georgia Dome.
Ryan doesn’t feel there’s any added playoff pressure on him after a three-year hiatus.
Ryan, who was drafted in 2008, took Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons in the league. The team has missed the playoffs for the past three seasons before earning the No. 2 seed this season.
Ryan has a 1-4 record in the playoffs as the Falcons were knocked out each time by the team that went on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Green Bay and the New York Giants went on to win Super Bowl titles, while Arizona and San Francisco were defeated in the Super Bowl.
“I don’t think so,” Ryan said. “We’ve won in the playoffs before. I don’t really worry about that too much. For me, it’s about how do we get the one win next week, whoever it’s going to be against. I think putting any more pressure on yourself, other than that, is a waste of time.”
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