Smith likes how Ryan handles pressure

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith praised quarterback Matt Ryan for the way he handled playing under duress against a potent Buffalo Bills pass rush.

Ryan was sacked a season-high six times in the game -- and was hit nine times -- yet still made some big plays when it counted the most. His perfectly executed 20-yard screen pass to Harry Douglas in overtime helped set up Matt Bryant's game-winning , 36-yard field goal in a 34-31 triumph.

Ryan finished 28-of-47 for 311 yards with a touchdown to Tony Gonzalez and no interceptions.

"I thought Matt did a nice job," Smith said Monday. "He was under some pressure. There were a couple of no-hitters. When I say no-hitters, there were basically unblocked guys that came. We had an identification issue on one. We had a mental error on another.

"And, of course we had the unfortunate situation there down on the goal line where [Ryan's] foot was stepped on. And that counts as an official sack. So, those were three that were pretty unfortunate. The other three were where we actually physically gave up sacks."

Noticeable on at least two sacks was how right guard Peter Konz was obliterated by Bills top pass-rusher Mario Williams and how left tackle Lamar Holmes was pushed back by Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Ryan has been sacked 11 times in the last two games against the Saints and Bills. Ironically, the offense was adequate in those games, and Ryan didn't thrown an interception in either contest.

But the sacks and quarterback hits have to be limited to ensure Ryan's health for the future. He has been sacked a career-high 30 times this season despite making a conscious effort to take shorter drops and deliver the ball quicker. And the Falcons still have four games to go.

Ryan's previous high for sacks absorbed was 28 in 16 games last season.

More than anything, this year's high total emphasizes the need to get Ryan better protection in the offseason. The offensive line has been physically dominated too many times. And it won't get any easier with two of the top three defenses in terms of sacks remaining on the schedule: Green Bay this Sunday and Carolina in the season finale (Dec. 29). Not to mention the Falcons also have to face Aldon Smith and San Francisco on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" on Dec. 23.