Falcons, Ravens offer prime matchup in prime time

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ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco just can’t get away from each other.

Thrown together on draft day in 2008, these two quarterbacks set off on remarkably parallel NFL careers. Both earned starting jobs as rookies. Both led their teams to unexpected playoff appearances right out of the gate. And now, in Year 3, they continue to put up carbon-copy numbers.

“They’ll be hooked together their entire career,” said Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, who’s got Ryan on his side. “When you come in at the same time, especially at the quarterback position _ which is probably the most scrutinized position in all of sports _ they’ll always be compared to one another.”

They’ll finally be on the same field Thursday night. Flacco’s Baltimore Ravens take on Ryan’s Falcons in a game that might just be a preview of the get-together they’d really like to have on the first Sunday of February in Big D.

“They both have all the skills to lead their team to great heights,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’ll be interesting to see how they develop over the next couple of years.”

So far, so good _ and so similar.

This season, Ryan has completed 62.5 percent of his passes, Flacco is at 60.8. Ryan has thrown for 1,949 yards, Flacco is right behind at 1,917. Ryan has 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions, Flacco has one less TD and one more pick. Their efficiency ratings are nearly identical as well: Ryan ranks 12th in the league at 90.2, Flacco is 14th at 88.9.

“(We’re) just two bigger guys that throw well from the pocket. Both of us have been able to get outside the pocket and make plays, too,” Ryan said. “We’re probably more similar than different.”

Their teams are, too.

At the midway points of the NFL season, it’s become clear the Falcons and the Ravens _ both 6-2 and leading their respective divisions _ are on a shrinking list of contenders for the Super Bowl in Dallas.

Heck, this game might actually be worth the trouble of trying to find the NFL Network on your cable or satellite dial.

“I know it’s not going to be one of those games where it’s won in the first quarter,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “It’s going to be one of those fourth-quarter games.”

The Falcons, who hold a half-game lead over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the rugged NFC South, hope that playing at home will be the deciding factor in a game where the teams appear so evenly matched. Atlanta is 17-3 at the Georgia Dome in Smith’s three-year coaching tenure _ and 17-1 with Ryan as the starter.

“We’ve been tough at home,” Ryan said. “Our fans have really done a great job this year, especially when we’re on defense. The Dome has been loud. It’s been a great environment, and hopefully we can keep that going.”

Baltimore is tied for the AFC North lead with Pittsburgh and knows that every win is crucial in a conference that has seven teams at 5-3 or better. There’s only six playoff spots available.

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