Atlanta Falcons  

 

Falcons pool report: Mack moving better, expected to play

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  • By Peter King Special to NFL.com
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HOUSTON -- The NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, in their final regular pre-Super Bowl LI practice Friday, got a terrific red-zone performance from quarterback Matt Ryan on a chilly, breezy afternoon practice at Rice University.

In slightly more than 20 minutes of plays from the 20-yard-line and closer against a scout team defense, Ryan was perfect. No pass from Ryan to any of his wide receivers, tight ends or backs ever hit the ground. The NFL will announce its 2016 Most Valuable Player Saturday night in Houston, and you could see exactly why Ryan is a leading candidate for the award after his pristine performance on Rice's grass practice field.

"That's Matt," coach Dan Quinn said after the 79-minute practice. "I am so pumped for him, the way he has worked. It is not surprising the offense feels so good about the plan and has practiced so clean. In the past, I think he has overburdened himself at times, going so deep in the gameplan. This year, he's really found his rhythm. A week like this, you can see he doesn't force it to one player. What was it -- 13 different players caught touchdown passes from him this year?"

That's what it was, and many of those shuffled in an out of the first unit on Friday. This was a crisp, decisive and impressive performance by the NFL's highest-scoring offense in 2016.

Also Friday, Falcons center Alex Mack (fibula), wide receiver Julio Jones (sprained toe) and pass-rusher Dwight Freeney (calf) practiced on a limited basis and all three were removed from the game status portion of the injury report.

Backup center Ben Garland continued to get some work in Mack's place Friday, but it was clear from Quinn's comments that he expects Mack to play and play well against the defensively diverse Patriots. On Thursday, Quinn had said he was "not panicked, but I'm concerned" about Mack's status for Sunday. But he said Friday he watched the tape from Thursday's practice and had a different feeling.

"I felt good after watching Alex last night," Quinn said, "because I felt good about what he was able to do on the things we're going to ask him to do in the game. It's going to hurt, but a lot of guys are playing through stuff. The important thing is Alex's mind is clear. He needed to test it and have guys go on him full speed, and he was able to do that Wednesday and Thursday."

The Falcons were a loose group as they wound up the serious portion of their practice week. With the field situated next to a residential area abutting the Rice campus, there was extra security between the edge of the field (with a fence and high hedges) and the neighborhood, so the Falcons could feel secure running a practice as though they were at their home facility. There was only one brief security heads-up: Security officers grounded a drone that was sent airborne by one of the residents in the neighborhood on Thursday.

The team will drive to NRG Stadium to walk around the field and the locker room Saturday, then return to Rice for a final walk-through practice before Sunday's game.

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