FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s 114 passer rating is the best in the NFL.
“It’s early, but it’s a good start,” said Ryan, who has a 46-19 record. “We need to continue to take care of our business. Prepare ourselves week-in and week-out and keep trying to play good football.”
Ryan has the Falcons off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2004.
“I think that comes down to playing winning football,” Ryan said. “The statistics, all those kind of things, if we play well, and I feel like, if I play well, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win. Ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Here’s a brief Q&A involving Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: Where did that [Luke] Kuechly kid go to school at?
A: BC. It’s always good to see a fellow Boston College guy do well. I’m happy for him.
Q: Do you expect the Josh Norman kid to bounce back from his tough game against the New York Giants?
A: He’s talented. You can see on film. This guy physically has the skill set to get it done. Like for all rookies, there are ups and downs. I’m sure he’ll do a great job. He’ll do well when he comes down to the [Georgia] Dome on Sunday.
Q: What do you expect from defensive end Charles Johnson and Carolina’s defense?
A: They’ve got a lot of good players on defense. Charles Johnson is a tough guy that we’ve played against.[Greg] Hardy is a solid and physical player. … [Linebacker] Thomas Davis is back, and he’s an athletic guy.
The Falcons, who are set to open play in the NFC South, are breezing along at 3-0.
The Panthers are trying to salvage pieces from the wreckage that was their 36-7 loss to the New York
Giants on Sept. 20.
This is a dangerous early-season matchup of two teams apparently heading in opposite directions. That’s why the Falcons’ team psychologist — they really don’t have one — is on the hot spot.
If the Falcons have a lapse against the well-rested Panthers, they could drop from the ranks of the unbeaten.
“It just seems like the Falcons are playing great, but so were the Niners, and the Vikings tripped them up,” Fox TV analyst John Lynch said. “So were the Patriots, and Arizona tripped them up. The Giants were beat [by Dallas] in Week 1. There’s just been too many examples. No one is unbeatable in this league.”
Last season, the Panthers jumped to a 23-7 halftime lead on the Falcons in Charlotte in Week 14, but couldn’t close the deal. The Falcons, with their playoff hopes on the line, scored 24 consecutive points to pull out a 31-23 victory.
By all accounts, Carolina appears to be in a bad place.
Quarterback Cam Newton is not showing signs of improvement from his rookie season.
The defense, with the return of several injured players, was expected to be improved. However, they have not started taking steps up the NFL’s defensive rankings yet.
And, second-year coach Ron Rivera has asked his squad to compete harder.
If the Falcons continue to play at the level that allowed them to beat Broncos and Chargers, they should handle the Panthers swiftly.
If they don’t, well, that would be mind-boggling and perhaps they will hire a sports psychologist.
“They are not going to lay down by any means,” left guard Justin Blalock said. “They are a good football team regardless of whatever their record may be. We’re expecting a hard-fought game.”
Falcons fans, for some reason, have traditionally been late arriving into the Georgia Dome.
If they stay in the parking lot too long, getting in one more hot dog, they are going to miss some of the action.
In each game this season, the Falcons have scored touchdowns on their opening drive. They are the only team in the NFL to achieve that feat.
Conversely, the Panthers’ defense has allowed touchdowns on their first drives in each of their three games.
“We’ve emphasized starting fast around here ever since the beginning of camp,” Falcons left guard Justin Blalock said. “We run plays quickly, crisply and get off the field.”
Against Kansas City, the Falcons drove 80 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown.
Against Denver, it took them three plays to score from 1 yard out after safety William Moore’s interception of Peyton Manning.
Against San Diego, the offense drove 80 yards in 10 plays.
“I think we’ve had good execution coming out of the gate,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I think [offensive coordinator] Dirk [Koetter] has done a good job of calling the plays and getting us prepared for those situations. That’s one thing that we’ve done well.”
The Panthers have had trouble covering tight end and running backs in their opening drives. Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has sent some blitzes, but they mostly have exposed his linebackers in coverage.