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Ryan expects another close game vs. Bears

Matt Ryan will see a familiar face on Sunday in Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Dale Zanine/US Presswire

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Quarterback Matt Ryan anticipates a close game Sunday given the recent history between his Atlanta Falcons and the Chicago Bears.

Atlanta pulled off a pair of memorable home victories by a combined nine points over the Bears in 2008 and 2009, two games that featured different endings but the same result. The Bears suffered a massive defensive collapse in the final minutes of a 22-20 loss in 2008, then fell apart late in the red zone in a 21-14 loss in 2009.

"Great football games every time we played them," Ryan said Wednesday. "It seems to have come down to the wire. We've been fortunate to have come out on the right side of it a couple of years ago, but that's a long time ago. We're really focused on trying to play well this week, but it seems like every time we've played them it's been a great game."

Ryan is familiar with core Bears defensive players like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, but the quarterback singled out a newer addition to defense: defensive end Julius Peppers. Ryan faced Peppers numerous times while Peppers resided in the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers.

"A little bit different (with Peppers), he's a big addition," Ryan said. "Obviously, we played Julius a number of times when he was with Carolina, so we know what he brings to the table. He's an extremely talented player, very good pass rusher, very good against the run. They can use him in a number of different areas. He's incredibly athletic.

"I think the remainder of the guys (who) we played against twice are there. We know it's a talented defense. We know they have a lot of talent, we know they play well. They are very sound in what they do in terms of the defensive scheme. So this is a difficult defense to go against."

The same could be said for the Atlanta offense, which moved up in the first round to draft Alabama receiver Julio Jones (No. 6 overall), pairing him with three-time Pro Bowler Roddy White. However, the Falcons have some health issues on the offensive line, but were able to re-sign two of their three free-agent linemen once the lockout ended in left guard Justin Blalock and right tackle Tyson Clabo.

The Bears will likely look to attack the newer member of the units Sunday (center Joe Hawley and right guard Garrett Reynolds), but Ryan, White, Jones, running back Michael Turner and tight end Tony Gonzalez gives Atlanta an impressive array of weapons at the skill positions.

"I think (drafting Jones) was very important," Ryan said. "Julio has a unique skill set. He's done a great job as a rookie coming in and working hard at practice and throughout practice. (He's been) concentrating in the meetings, concentrating at practice just to soak in everything he can. In the past six weeks, he's done a great job for us. Hopefully, he can be productive for us this year. I think he will be."