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Monday, November 24, 2014         

NFL PRO BOWL / NFC


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Ryan starts slow, finishes strong in first Pro Bowl

By Billy Hull

POSTED:


Matt Ryan's first throw as a Pro Bowl quarterback was one to forget.

Everything else about his debut in the NFL's annual all-star game is worth remembering.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback shook off an interception on his first attempt to finish 9-for-13 for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC's 55-41 win over the AFC yesterday at Aloha Stadium.

"It's been an awesome week to come to (Hawaii) and get a chance to play with all of these great players and against some great players, too," said Ryan, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

The former Boston College star, selected to the first Pro Bowl in his young career, threw a deep ball short to Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin on his first throw, allowing New England's Devin McCourty to make one of six interceptions in the game.

On the NFC's next drive, Ryan went to his familiar targets, hitting fellow Falcons receiver Roddy White twice for 30 yards.

He then hooked up with another Falcon, tight end Tony Gonzalez, from 4 yards out for the first of four second-quarter touchdowns by the NFC to run up a 42-7 halftime lead.

"I'm fortunate to be able to play with (Gonzalez) all year and know he can make those types of plays," Ryan said. "I was lucky to have him in there in that situation, and he made a great play."

Gonzalez made his 11th Pro Bowl appearance, tying him with Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, one behind Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who had the most among the players in yesterday's game.

Gonzalez has 12 touchdowns in two seasons with the Falcons after spending 12 years in Kansas City. His score in the second quarter set a Pro Bowl record for career touchdowns with six.

Ryan was one of nine Falcons selected to the NFC team coached by Mike Smith, who got the nod after Atlanta ended its season with a tough loss to Green Bay in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

The Falcons finished the season atop the NFC at 13-3 and have won 33 regular-season games in Ryan's first three years.

"Obviously when a lot of guys win awards, it's a good thing for us," Ryan said. "It's a sign of a lot of guys putting in a lot of work to get to this point, and it says we are in a good spot, we're not far from where we want to be, and we've got the guys to do it."

Gonzalez was one of two Falcons to score in the game. Fullback Ovie Mughelli started his first Pro Bowl in style, scoring on a 1-yard dive to give the NFC a 7-0 lead.

Ryan tossed his second touchdown pass of the game to Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who used his 6-foot-3 frame to make a leaping catch in the end zone to give the NFC a 35-0 lead.

"He's a special guy, and I just kind of threw it up there ... and he was able to come down with it," Ryan said.

The NFC scored on four of the six drives Ryan played in, coming up empty on the interception and when the clock ran out at the half. His day ended when he helped set up a 41-yard field goal by David Akers for a 45-10 lead in the third quarter.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees entered on the next drive and closed out the victory.

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