Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan turned in one of the greatest days of his five-year NFL career on Sunday against the Chargers in a battle of unbeaten teams.
With Ryan operating at near peak performance and the defense confounding San Diego’s offense, the Falcons defeated the Chargers 27-3, before 61,297 fans, to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2004.
“I really liked the way all three phases of the team played today,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “They performed extremely well.”
The Falcons used their passing attack to build a lead and then turned the game over to running back Michael Turner, who had a tumultuous week that included being arrested for driving under the influence, to close out the game.
Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 275 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“I feel as confident as I ever have for sure and a lot of that has to do with experience. …having good experiences and bad experiences,” said Ryan, who improved his record as a starter in the NFL to 46-19. “ I’m now realizing that I can do it. I can make the plays we need to make in order to win.”
Free safety Thomas DeCoud is also gaining more confidence from his experiences. He was at the center two key turnovers that fueled the victory.
DeCoud recovered a fumble that set up a back-breaking 17-play, 96-yard touchdown drive. He also came up with an interception that helped the Falcons build a 20-0 halftime lead.
“I think it’s a combination of the scheme, skill and confidence all coming together,” DeCoud said. “We are a defense that is offensive minded and we want to get the ball back for our offense. I think we’ve really taken that to heart.”
Ryan and the offense opened the game with a solid touchdown drive.
With Ryan passing on 8 of 10 plays, the Falcons marched down the field before he tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Holder Matt Bosher scooped up an errant Josh Harris snap, but was tackled while trying to run for the extra point.
With the Falcons up 6-0, the game stalled until early in the second quarter.
The Chargers were on the move and drove inside the Falcons’ 10 yard line when DeCoud held up San Diego running back Ryan Mathews and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon whacked him from the back to force a fumble.
DeCoud recovered Mathews’ 11th fumble in 27 career NFL games.
“I was pushing for more yards and when I was going down to get a little extra, the ball came out in front of me,” Mathews said. “Stuff like that happens and I just have to learn to go down instead of trying to get the extra yard.”
The Falcons promptly drove 96 yards in 17 plays before Ryan tossed a laser shot to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who hauled it in for a 7-yard touchdown. It was the 98th career touchdown for Gonzalez.
During the drive, their longest of the season, the offense converted on five third downs to keep the chains moving.
“We got into a rhythm,” Ryan said. “The one that stands out to me is Jason Snelling catching the check down and being able to run for nine or 10 yards, converting on a third-and-long situation.”
With the Chargers on the ropes, quarterback Philip Rivers tossed an ill-advised pass out to tight end Antonio Gates and DeCoud made a spectacular interception along the sideline at San Diego’s 29 with 1:53 left in the second quarter.
The Falcons struck quickly, with Ryan tossing a 9-yard touchdown pass on a fade route to Julio Jones on the fourth play of the drive. Rodgers picked up a blitzer to allow Ryan time to get off the touchdown pass that made it 20-0.
“That was a big-time catch over there on our sideline in the end zone,” Smith said. “On the very first play, he was injured. To what extent, I don’t know. He was able to return to play and made a big play for us when we needed it. There were a bunch of guys in that locker room that made big plays. I’m very proud of them.”
San Diego received a 41-yard field goal from Nate Kaeding on their first drive of the second half.
About the only thing Ryan did wrong was throw a third quarter interception. He hadn’t thrown an interception in a franchise-record 272 attempts before San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason’s interception.
The Falcons will attempt to improve to 4-0 when they face the well-rested Carolina Panthers (1-2), who played Thursday night, at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
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