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Matt Ryan looks to follow Eli Manning's lead against 49ers' tough defense

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis celebrates with

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis celebrates with safety Donte Whitner after tackling Arizona Cardinals running back William Powell in the third quarter in San Francisco. (Dec. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

ATLANTA -- The 49ers' defense put a pounding on Eli Manning in last year's NFC Championship Game, sacking him six times and slamming him at least twice that many times (the stats showed 12 official quarterback hits).

"Yeah, yeah," Matt Ryan told Newsday with a chuckle Friday from the Falcons' locker room when that abuse was brought up. "I watched it."

On Sunday, Ryan could be living it.

Ryan's Falcons are hosting the 49ers in this year's NFC title game. The 49ers' defense has maintained its role, but this time it will be Ryan and not Manning they are zeroing in on.

"Their defense is good," Ryan said. "They're physical. They've been that way this year, too. We know going into it, it's going to be a physical battle and we have to play really well up front and when we have the opportunities, take advantage of them."

That's what Manning and the Giants were able to do last year, withstanding the onslaught, bouncing up after each knockdown and winning the game in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.

Ryan doesn't want to emulate the bruises Manning took in that game, but he wouldn't mind the same result.

"Man, Eli last year played an unbelievable game," Ryan said. "He's a competitor. I knew that from having played against him just a couple of weeks before that game [in the wild-card playoff round]. I've always been impressed with the way he plays."

The 49ers do have a staunch defensive front that can dominate games. They have four Pro Bowlers among their front seven -- lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman -- and had 38 sacks in the regular season, the most among teams left in the playoffs. Their defense ranked fourth in the NFL against the run (94.2 yards per game) and fourth against the pass (200.2).

But beyond that ferocious veneer, the Falcons believe they can exploit the 49ers' secondary.

"There are a lot," Falcons receiver Roddy White said when asked about the opportunities downfield. "We're watching film, we're seeing a lot of things out there. People have made plays. They're just doing a good job with their front seven of getting after the quarterback and not giving him a lot of time."

White said he watched the video of the Patriots' near- comeback against the 49ers in the regular season and last week's playoff game against the Packers.

"You watch [Tom] Brady in the second half, what he was able to do, and Aaron Rodgers had some plays out there that just barely missed here and there," White said. "We just figure if we can go out there and hit those plays, then that puts a lot of pressure on them."

Against a 49ers unit used to doling out the pressure, that could be the Falcons' best chance at victory.

New York Sports