0

Cutler, Ryan add passing balance to Bears, Falcons

ATLANTA - Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan have quickly passed their way into the records of two franchises known for running the ball.

Cutler has a 100-plus quarterback rating in three straight games, a first for the Chicago Bears in 45 years - since Rudy Bukich in 1964.

In his first season with the Bears (3-1) following a trade from Denver, Cutler has completed 64.3 percent of his passes, which would set a Chicago record.

'Jay of course is doing a super job of taking care of the ball and just really leading us,' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. 'When we need to pass the ball, of course we feel very comfortable with him throwing it.'

Ryan also has the Atlanta Falcons' offense on a roll entering tonight's game.

He set a career high with 329 yards passing as the Falcons (3-1) blew out the San Francisco 49ers 45-10 last week.

The Falcons set a team record with 35 points in the first half. Ryan and Roddy White connected on touchdown passes of 31 and 90 yards in the half. White set another Atlanta record with 210 yards receiving in the game.

'I think any week you'd like to start off fast, but it's not going to be the case every week when you're facing a good defense, and Chicago is a good defense,' Ryan said.

As a rookie last season, Ryan's 3,440 yards passing were the most for the Falcons since Jeff George's 4,143 yards in 1995. He ranks sixth in the NFL this season with a 102.9 rating and has topped Cutler by completing 66.7 percent of his passes.

'Matt Ryan, it seems, has done a super job every single game he's been in the league,' Smith said.

Ryan has shrugged off repeated questions this week about the Falcons' 22-20 win last season. Ryan's 26-yard sideline pass to Michael Jenkins set up Jason Elam's game-winning 48-yard field goal.

'That was a good play for us last year,' Ryan said. 'That was last year and this is a different team coming in this year.'

With 977 yards passing, Ryan is close to challenging George's record.

'I think my preparation is better at this point than it was last year,' Ryan said. 'I was still trying to figure things out and still am to a certain degree but I feel like I've gotten myself into a good routine and a routine that helps me get prepared to play well on Sunday.'

A key to Ryan's success has been the protection provided by his offensive line. Ryan has been sacked only twice, and not at all in the last three games.

'It's not just the offensive line that's important in pass protection,' center Todd McClure said. 'It's also the running backs. It's Matt getting the ball out quick and knowing where to go with it. It's a combination of all the groups working together.

'We did get him hit a few times in this past game and we'd like to clean that up a little bit. We'll have to be on our best game against these guys, because they can rush the passer.'

The Bears have 14 sacks. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye had 21/2 sacks in Chicago's 48-24 win over Detroit two weeks ago and has 41/2 this season.

The Falcons are 9-1 at the Georgia Dome with Ryan and coach Mike Smith. The one home loss came against Cutler and the Denver Broncos last season.

Despite the strong starts from Cutler and Ryan, each offense still emphasizes the run. Lovie Smith says the Bears are still a run-first offense and added 'That won't ever change, as long as I'm here.'

Chicago struggled to establish its running game until Matt Forte had 121 yards rushing and a touchdown in the win over the Lions two weeks ago. The Bears were off last week.

'Early on we were struggling but the last game we had a good week of running the ball,' Forte said. 'It's a sign of things to come, I think.'

The Falcons' running game also had a slow start. Michael Turner had 22 carries for 97 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers. Jerious Norwood returned from his second concussion of the season to add 44 yards.

'We wanted to put four quarters together and we feel we did that pretty well,' McClure said.

SideBar: Bears at Falcons

When: Today, 8:20 p.m.

Where: Georgia Dome

TV/Radio: NBC/92.9-FM