FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Quarterback Matt Ryan says he and the Atlanta Falcons face no added pressure with everything on the line this week.
In the first season of a six-year, $103.75 million contract, Ryan was hoping to steer Atlanta back to respectability, but that has not been the case.
The Falcons (5-9) have lost three of four heading into Sunday's game at New Orleans (6-8). They are third in the weak NFC South, but can win the division for the third time in five years if they beat the Saints and close the regular season with a victory over Carolina.
Ryan, though, insists that he's not preparing for the biggest regular-season game of his career.
"I don't know about that," Ryan told The Associated Press. "There's been plenty of big games early on. There's been tons of big ones."
Ryan said he's used this mindset since the Falcons drafted him No. 3 overall in 2008. His first quarterbacks coach, Bill Musgrave, told him that all games count the same.
So regardless if Julio Jones, the NFL's second-leading receiver, is unable to play against the Saints, Ryan disagrees that this game is bigger than others.
"When it comes to the end of the season and we see how things shake out, that's when everybody on the outside starts putting extra weight on it," Ryan said, "but I think from my perspective it's about preparing the same way every week, making sure that if it's game one against New Orleans or game 15 of the year that you're at your best when Sunday rolls around."
For Ryan, this season has added another unpleasant perspective on his career.
The two-time Pro Bowl QB and former Boston College standout went 55-24 and led the Falcons to four playoff appearances in his first five seasons.
But he and the team are 9-21 since finishing the 2012 season 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl, and it doesn't figure to get any easier this week. Atlanta is 1-5 at the Superdome under coach Mike Smith and 4-9 in the series.
"I think with where we're at and what's on the line, everybody understands what it is," Ryan said. "All that stuff is fun to talk about and fun to write about, but when you get on the field and between the lines, it all comes down to playing the game and playing it well."
The Falcons are in playoff contention because of a 4-0 record in the NFC South. They beat the Saints 37-34 in Week 1 on Matt Bryant's overtime field goal, swept Tampa Bay and won at Carolina.
Ryan knows he must protect the football this week. Despite 10 touchdown passes in the last four games, Ryan has thrown an interception in each, and Atlanta is 1-3 in that span.
He will need to stay upright and keep drives alive by getting solid protection. New Orleans, which won Monday at Chicago after sacking Jay Cutler seven times, is skilled at mixing up pre-snap looks to confuse the opposition.
"I think it's going to be important for us on the road to be able to communicate very well in terms of our pass protection schemes," Ryan said. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is "very multiple, changes personnel groupings very well and puts a lot of pressure on your identification and communication. That's an area that we need to be razor sharp this week."