Ryan emotionally ready for scrappy Panthers

All quarterback Matt Ryan wants for Christmas is for all Falcons fans to show up at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

He wants them to be loud and rowdy when Cam Newton and Panthers have the ball and be quiet as church mice when he’s operating the offense.

Through this tumultuous season and improbable playoff push, Ryan has remained upbeat. In turn, all that is left now for him and the Falcons (6-9) is to defeat Carolina (6-8-1) to earn the NFC South title and a home playoff game.

But the Panthers are surging. After going 0-6-1 in a midseason swoon, they’ve won three straight against the Saints, Buccaneers and Browns. Ryan is expecting a major tussle from the defending NFC South champs.

“They have a really good front seven,” Ryan said. “That’s what jumps out at you on film when you watch them play.”

Games with the Panthers have been high-spirited ever since Ryan told them to “get the (expletive) off my field” after a dramatic 30-28 win in 2012.

Who could blame Ryan for being so stoked? In the last minute and no timeouts remaining, he had driven the Falcons from their 1-yard line into field-goal range.

The Panthers won their next three matchups before the Falcons won 19-17 on Nov. 16 in Charlotte in a game that included a couple skirmishes. The Falcons weren’t in the clear that day until rookie defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman blocked a 63-yard field goal attempt at the buzzer.

“It’s going to be a 60-minute football game,” Ryan said. “We know how good of a football team that they are. We’ve got to play our best.”

The Falcons never thought they’d be in this position after opening the season at 2-6. Thanks to a big win over the Saints last weekend, Ryan and the team have some momentum. He received a game ball in the team meeting on Monday for his play against New Orleans.

“Matt’s communication, his accuracy on his throws, his ability to stand the pocket and get us in the right play, Matt was outstanding in the game,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said.

After pounding the rival Saints, the Falcons must make sure they are not too emotionally high-strung for the Panthers.

“Part of being professional is being able to move beyond losses and wins,” Ryan said. “You have to enjoy it at the time because those kind of wins are hard to come by. But at the same time, you’ve got to store it in the back of your head and move forward.”

Ryan may be without running back Steven Jackson, who suffered a quadriceps injury against the Saints and did not practice on Wednesday. Running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman will pick up the load if Jackson is unable to play.

The Falcons are expecting wide receiver Julio Jones, who was picked to the Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, to play. Slowed by a hip/oblique injury, he had seven catches for 107 yards against the Saints.

“Everybody in this locker room knows how important this is to him,” Ryan said. “How competitive of guy he is and how tough of a player he is, I think guys really respect him for that.”

In their previous meeting, Carolina’s defense was able to stymie the Falcons’ screen passes and afterwards, the Falcons temporarily moved away from screen calls. But they have since re-inserted them into the attack.

Even if it does get a little rowdy on Sunday, the Falcons plan to pull out all of the stops.

“We know what’s on the line,” Ryan said. “We hope to continue to play into the playoffs. That’s the reason guys play this game.

“You work hard during the offseason. You work hard during training camp and all throughout the year to hopefully have an opportunity to keep playing in January.”