KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Matt Ryan took the Falcons’ refurbished offense for a test drive Sunday afternoon. It handled like a dream.
With surgical precision, the Atlanta quarterback directed a 40-24 dismantling of the Kansas City Chiefs in the season opener at Arrowhead Stadium. The result was the Falcons most emphatic opening victory since they won by 27 points over New Orleans to start the 1981 season. The franchise’s biggest season-opening win was a 62-7 rout of the Saints in 1973.
“I really felt that we came out very quickly and strongly on offense,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “I think it took us a while to get going on defense.”
Ryan directed the Falcons to scores on their first eight possessions of the game and they later used three straight second-half turnovers by the Chiefs to pull away from a 20-17 halftime lead.
“We wanted to start fast and we wanted to score touchdowns,” Ryan said. “We did a pretty good job of that even though we had to settle for a couple of field goals.”
Ryan completed 23 of 31 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 136.4 was the fourth-highest of his career.
It addition to his exceptional passing performance, Ryan ran for a touchdown as the offense, under the direction of new coordinator Dirk Koetter, was nearly unstoppable.
Ryan tossed two touchdown passes to second-year wide receiver Julio Jones and one to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who made a triumphant return to the city where he played the first 12 seasons of his storied career.
Ryan showed no favorites. Jones finished with six catches for 108 yards. Wide receiver Roddy White had six catches for 87 yards and Gonzalez had five catches for 53 yards.
Ryan took no mercy on the Chiefs, who were missing four starters on defense.
“Our offensive line played really well,” said Ryan, who was sacked just once. “The wide receivers and tight ends had good days. We had a little bit of success running the ball, too.”
The Chiefs’ first misjudgement was to leave Jones in single coverage at the start of the game.
“I think all of our guys are capable of winning on any route when they are one-on-one,” Ryan said. “But when they do have one-on-one, they better expect the ball to come.”
The Falcons capped an opening 12-play, 80-yard drive when Ryan tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jones. Matt Bryant’s extra point made the lead 7-0 and the Falcons would not trail all day. Jones was featured in the drive with three catches for 44 yards and the score.
When the Chiefs decided to cover Jones, it was White who broke loose.
“It did change at different points today,” Ryan said. “Roddy found some one-on-ones. Julio found some one-on-ones. Tony found some one-on-ones. Harry [Douglas] had a couple one-on-ones. When we get those opportunities, we have to take advantage of them.”
“Simple and plain: They made plays and we didn’t,” said Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt.
With Ryan and the offense moving along, punter Matt Bosher nearly had the day off. He punted only once and then not until 3:31 was left in the game.
“I think he had a bunch of [placement] holds [on kicks],” Ryan said. “That’s good action.”
Ryan even got in on the fun when he emphatically spiked the ball after his touchdown run put the Falcons up 27-17 with 4:54 left in the third quarter.
“I don’t score rushing touchdowns all that often,” Ryan said. “So when I get in there, it always feels pretty good. So that’s why I spiked it.”
The Falcons’ last touchdown came on Ryan’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez, who needed some encouragement to dunk the ball over the goal post, his customary post-TD celebration.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even going to dunk it,” Gonzalez said. “But the ball went flying out of there and all of a sudden Matt comes over and puts it in my chest and says, ‘Go dunk that ball.’ So, I went up there and dunked it. I heard the boos.
“It wasn’t anything disrespectful. That’s just me. That’s how I made my bones coming up in this league.”
On defense, the Falcons showed another new facet, opening with Asante Samuel at left cornerback and Brent Grimes on the right side. Grimes played the left side for the past two seasons, while Dunta Robinson had been the right cornerback.
The new allignment limited KC Matt Cassell to 253 passing yards (21 for 33) with two interceptions and three sacks. Robinson played the slot in the nickel situations. Grimes left the game in the fourth quarter with a calf injury and did not return.
After Ryan’s rushing touchdown, defensive end John Abraham had a sack and caused a fumble that was recovered by Stephen Nicholas. That turnover led to Gonzalez’s touchdown.
Safety William Moore and Nicholas had interceptions on Kansas City’s next two possessions to help seal the victory.
Next up for the Falcons are the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning in the home opener on Monday Night Football Sept. 17 at the Georgia Dome.
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