- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - The previous time the 49ers traveled to play quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta, the stakes were high.

It was the NFC championship game in January 2013, when Ryan and the top-seeded Falcons were looking to make their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Ryan was having the best season of his career, but ran into San Francisco’s defense.

The 49ers rallied for a 28-24 victory, culminated by a fourth-down pass break-up from NaVorro Bowman with 1:13 remaining, sending Jim Harbaugh’s team to the Super Bowl.

“It was going good for us, we were rolling,” said cornerback Tramaine Brock, one of San Francisco’s eight remaining players that played in that game. “Champagne shower in the locker room.”

Fast forward nearly four years and the Falcons’ offense again looks championship-caliber, only Ryan is having an even better season.

He’s having a MVP-type season quarterbacking the league’s highest-scoring offense. His 113.2 passer rating is far better than his previous career high of 99.1 from that 2012 season.

San Francisco (1-12), meanwhile, is looking to end its franchise-worst losing streak at 12. There won’t be any champagne flowing in the locker room while the 49ers try to avoid finishing with fewer than two wins for the first time in history.

Ryan says he’s benefiting from being in the second season of coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

49ers coach Chip Kelly said it doesn’t matter what offense Ryan’s running.

“Matt’s one of those quarterbacks that transcends any system,” he said. “He’s had a couple different coordinators and been successful with whoever was coaching him. That’s just the type of player he is. I think he’s an elite quarterback.”

Ryan ranks second in passer rating, second in yards (4,050), tied for second in touchdown passes (30) and fourth in completion rate (68.3 percent).

“I think everybody’s a little bit more comfortable, year two in the system, and understands just the ins and outs and the nuances of the system a little bit better,” Ryan said during a conference call. “I think we’re more comfortable and I think we’ve got some more good players.”

Ryan has had new options at his disposal, including speedy receiver Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu, who’s turned into a valuable partner to Julio Jones, the NFL’s leader in yards receiving.

But Ryan was without Jones (toe) and Sanu (groin) last week when the Falcons traveled to play the struggling Rams.

It didn’t matter as Ryan threw three touchdown passes in the 42-14 win. Gabriel caught a 64-yard touchdown pass, his fourth, all 25 yards or longer.

“I thought our guys stepped up and played really well. It’s not easy when you’re top two guys go down,” Ryan said. “I thought our guys didn’t blink.”

Jones hasn’t practiced this week and is uncertain to play Sunday against the 49ers’ last-ranked defense. Sanu has been limited.

The 49ers will likely be without receiver Torrey Smith, who sustained a concussion when he slammed his head into the turf on an incompletion in the third quarter of the overtime loss to the Jets.

Smith lost consciousness, he said, and has a gap in his memory spanning from when the play was called to his drive home after the game.

He’s been in the concussion protocol this week and has yet to return to practice, but says he’s improving.

“I don’t remember anything. So, that’s just one of the things that comes with it,” Smith said. “But as long as I’m feeling better, each and every day, that’s all I’m going to concentrate on right now.”

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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