Matt Ryan backs Falcons, coach

— -- Quarterback  Matt Ryan woke up Tuesday morning with one thing on his mind: His Atlanta Falcons remain in first place in the NFC South, even after a gut-wrenching loss to the Cleveland Browns.

"As ugly as it's been, we're still in the driver's seat," Ryan said Tuesday during his weekly radio show on Atlanta's 680 The Fan.

The Falcons and New Orleans sit atop the NFC South at 4-7 after the Saints' loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. Atlanta, which is 4-0 in the division, currently holds the tiebreaker because of a season-opening, 37-34 overtime win over the rival Saints.

This marks the first time in NFL history any division leader has been three games below .500.

On the contrary, the AFC has 11 teams with winning records, the most from one conference through 11 games in a season in league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"You never know how it's going to shake out," Ryan said. "Obviously this year has been way different than any other I've been a part of, but it is what it is. Here we are, with five games to go. We've just got to do whatever we can to get the job done this weekend and stay on top."

If the Falcons truly control their own destiny, as Ryan believes, they will have to beat some tough teams in the process. Next up are the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, a team Ryan threw nine interceptions against the previous two seasons.

The Falcons then travel to Green Bay for a "Monday Night Football" matchup Dec. 8 against the Packers (currently 8-3) before returning home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4). Atlanta then plays at New Orleans on Dec. 21, and then at home against the reeling Carolina Panthers (currently 3-7-1) on Dec. 28.

Much of the current criticism surrounding the Falcons has been directed toward coach Mike Smith, who is on the hot seat after missing the playoffs last season. Smith came under more scrutiny for a costly late-game timeout in Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Browns. The timeout, which Smith said was used to set up a crucial third-and-2 play the Falcons failed to convert, helped save the Browns enough time for their winning drive and field goal.

Smith indirectly took ownership for the blunder during his Monday news conference.

"There's nobody that takes more responsibility than Mike," Ryan said of his coach. "And that's one of the reasons, as a player, you love him. He is the first to say, 'Listen, I wish we would have done that one differently.' So from a player's perspective, we've got to make him right. We can't worry about anything else other than we've got to convert that third down, we've got to get a first, we've got to be able to make them burn their timeouts and then kick it in the uprights and win that game.

"I feel for [Smith] because he's 'the man' when it comes to that. He will stick his neck out there for us and take the brunt of the responsibility. But, from a player's standpoint, we've got to make him right."

Ryan was asked about the mood of the team following the loss.

"I think angry about letting that one get away," he said. "And not angry at anybody else but ourselves because we didn't get it done. Regardless of all the other things that have been said or whatever, from a player's standpoint, we didn't do the job. We didn't get it done. So I think guys are angry. And I think that's a good thing. ... We should be pissed that we lost that game."