'Matty Ice' and skidding Falcons get chance to warm up indoors by playing Bills at Toronto
TORONTO – "Matty Ice" might be in for a nickname change after the Falcons quarterback acknowledged he's no fan of cold weather.
Matt Ryan made the not-so-surprising revelation upon hearing how the warm-weather Falcons (2-9) will avoid the wintry elements in Buffalo on Sunday. They'll instead face the Bills (4-7) in Toronto's climate-controlled, domed Rogers Centre in Buffalo's annual "home" game north of the border.
"Buffalo is supposed to get hammered with snow today, so it is good it's in a dome," Ryan said Wednesday.
Just don't try to get him to suggest the setting provides an edge to Atlanta, a team accustomed to playing indoors, and which is 0-5 on the road this season.
"I think it's an advantage for both teams, to be honest with you," Ryan said.
It was a diplomatic response that runs contrary to what Bills players believe after watching the snow pile up outside Ralph Wilson Stadium.
As receiver Stevie Johnson suggested: "They must have fixed the schedule or something out there in Atlanta. It's supposed to be out here at the Ralph."
Coming off their bye week still on the fringes of the AFC playoff race, the Bills will begin their late-season push at a neutral setting that lacks the blustery and raucous atmosphere at Orchard Park, N.Y. The Toronto games don't sell out, and fans who do attend aren't all Bills supporters.
That's the break the Falcons, who have lost five straight, should get during a season in which little has gone right for a team that went from preseason Super Bowl contenders to the first team eliminated from playoff contention.
"We'll anticipate going into where it's going to be really loud and difficult for us to communicate," Ryan said.
He laughed when informed there usually isn't much noise in the cavernous stadium.
"Well, OK," Ryan said. "We're going to prepare for it just in case. But thanks for the heads-up."
Here's five more things to watch for:
HEALTHY BILLS: For the first time this season, Bills coach Doug Marrone isn't ruling out anyone due to injury.
Johnson, who missed one game with a groin injury, and fellow receiver Robert Woods, who missed two with a sprained ankle, are set to return. The week off also provided running backs C.J. Spiller (ankle) and Fred Jackson (knee) additional time to heal.
Marrone dismissed a question about whether any players had any setbacks during practice.
"Nope," he said. "Don't jinx us."
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams (back), listed as questionable, was a late addition to the injury report.
LIMPING FALCONS: Injuries have played a significant role in the Falcons' struggles this year. They have four starters on injured reserve, including leading receiver Julio Jones (foot). Other regulars have also missed time, including receiver Roddy White, running back Steven Jackson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
"We've been in ballgames with the guys that we've had out there. We just haven't made the plays," Ryan said. "But it's certainly tough to replace those guys."
CROWDING THE LINE: Ryan has noticed opposing defenses crowding the line of scrimmage since Jones, his deep threat, sustained a season-ending foot injury on Oct. 7.
Ryan's numbers have dropped, too. He's thrown 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, two short of matching his career high. He faces an attacking defense that is tied for the NFL lead with 16 interceptions and 37 sacks.
Upon expressing relief to be playing indoors, Ryan added: "Then you turn on the film and watch the Bills' defense and realize that there is no break."
ON THE RUN: Spiller said his ankle feels at its best since he sprained it in Week 4. That gives Spiller belief he might finally be ready to "rock and roll," as he put it, after combining for 29 yards rushing in his past two games.
The indoor setting and Atlanta's porous run defense might help, too.
Atlanta ranks 28th against the run, and has allowed an average 149 yards rushing over its past eight.
FORD FACTOR: Marrone was unaware of the headline-grabbing international attention Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has attracted since admitting to smoking crack cocaine while he was in a drunken stupor.
"Really?" Marrone said. "Last time I checked that's illegal, so hopefully he can find a way to help himself."
Ford, an avid football fan, could well be in attendance Sunday.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org