Falcons make an impressive opening statement

The Falcons celebrate their first touchdown. Get used to seeing this. (AJC photo)

The Falcons celebrate their first touchdown. Get used to this. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com)

Remember the season opener a year ago, when it became so clear so early that every move had worked? The general manager who rebuilt the roster. The coach who chose a different path than his predecessor and convinced his players they really weren’t a sub-standard life form. The quarterback who played like some flawless lab creation.

It happened again Sunday.

This is the part where we caution: It’s only one game. Even Mike Smith, the coach, felt compelled to say, “It’s Week 1 of a long journey.”

But it looks like everything worked again. The second-year moves by second-year general manager Thomas Dimitroff  leave some sense of clairvoyance. The Falcons look better than good, better than last year, almost certainly better than we expected. They won their opener, 19-7, and it wasn’t nearly that close. Two missed field goals and a botched extra point  — OK, Jason Elam: not so perfect – prevented an assumed seven points. Miami was shut out until the final 3:22.

This game had 26-0 written all over it.

Falcons coach Mike Smith and falcons.0914 CC14.JPG Content Date:  9/13/2009 Byline:  CURTIS COMPTON Credit:  ccompton@ajc.com Original Caption:  090913 Atlanta - OPENING DAY VICTORY - Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith and assistant Gerald Brown celebrate the final minute if win No. 1. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons coach Mike Smith and assistant Gerald Brown celebrate the final minute of the season's first win. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

“Until the first kickoff and the first regular season game – and I stress, regular season game – you can’t truly have an indication of what your team is about,” Dimitroff said. “It’s a good feeling when you know all of the hard work that goes into the evaluation of players by coach Smith and I and the whole personnel staff, and you see guys produce effectively. It’s encouraging.”

It’s more than that. For a franchise that has taken too many steps back after too few steps forward, this was a glowing statement on the future.

Tony Gonzalez in; Ben Hartsock out –

I'm Tony Gonzalez -- catch me if you can. (Curtis Compton/compton@ajc.com)

I'm Tony Gonzalez -- catch me if you can. (Curtis Compton/compton@ajc.com)

that one figured to work out. But could the new tight end have made a more dramatic entrance? Five catches for 73 yards, including one for a 20-yard touchdown and a finger-tip grab at the Miami one to set up the Falcons’ first score.

Mike Peterson in; Keith Brooking out – that one figured to work out. But is this the same Peterson whom Jacksonville practically drop-kicked out of town? He forced a fumble – separating the Dolphins’ Anthony Fasano from the ball and his senses — to set up a field goal in the first quarter and intercepted a Chad Pennington pass to set up a touchdown in the third.

Brian Williams, waiver pickup last week: a fumble recovery. Curtis Lofton and Kroy Biermann, selections from Dimitroff’s first draft: each with a forced fumble. Biermamn also had two sacks, as did John Abraham.

You looked for a few positive signs in the opener. The Falcons gave you a cross between ballet and a wrecking ball.

One win. Only one win. But think about this: They dominated despite seeing Michael Turner and the running game relatively stuffed, and Matt Ryan — despite finishing with solid numbers — actually misfire a few times to open receivers. What happens when everything clicks?

“I wouldn’t want to be a defensive coordinator trying to come up with a game plan,” center Todd McClure said.

Gonzalez was a little more direct: “If teams want to stack the box against us to stop the run, that’s fine. We should hurt them.”

There was no shortage of panic over the defense. Veterans were cut loose after last season and the team, while clearly younger and faster, looked  lost in exhibitions. Exhibitions or not, there seemed no way to rationalize how the No. 1 unit played at times. “You just look at the guys we have on paper,” Peterson said. “Some teams look good in practice and some look good in pre-season. It’s just a matter of [carrying] it over when it counts.”

One win. Only one win. But it appears every move worked again. And afterward, nobody in the locker room looked surprised, nobody made any grand proclamations, nobody spouted off about their stats. An impressive start to the journey.

213 comments Add your comment

lawton

September 13th, 2009
6:31 pm

defense surprised me, particularly the defensive line. peterson was a beast out there. wait until we get william moore back, the defense will get better.

Singletary

September 13th, 2009
6:33 pm

Could not have said it better myself, Jeff. My only addition would be Ovie. He’s got really sure hands, and the Miami D often let him pass, not expecting him to turn on the flat — or in the endzone — for the passes.

Not to jinx it, cana hora, knock on wood … whatever: They looked better than a first week team.

PS Coach Smith, bring as many Jags as you want. I think Petersen should be convinced he earned the job, and now he can join the Over-30 Club.

Ben

September 13th, 2009
6:36 pm

wow. first.

great games by almost all. this team plays with fire. loved the way the d was flying around and laying brutal hits.

good article Jeff, but I read the first sentence 3 times and think you should have read it a second time also.

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:37 pm

This is an amazing feeling. As a lifetime Falcon fan, I don’t remember having this much hope after the first game of the season following a playoff visit. I think we’ve finally found a winning combination in GM and coach. I am so looking forward to this year. We should all be excited how the D played. The O will come around. This is going to be great.

[...] Falcons pick up where they left off – a nice change of pace [...]

IslandDawg

September 13th, 2009
6:38 pm

Wow, defense carries the day! Who woulda thunk it?!

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:38 pm

YES Ben…brutal hits. It was so good.

DePlane

September 13th, 2009
6:41 pm

Great win….there were a few opportunities to really blow them out and our offense missed them. Defense played lights out! Very impressed with Mike Peterson’s debut as a Falcon. He looked shaky in coverage a few times, but made up for it with the FF and INT. Bierman is a beast and Abe looked like his old self teaching Jake Long a thing or two in the process. The DL overall looked great and the LB’s and Safeties fly to the ball. Kudos to B. Williams for his debut…Coach Smith knows his players doesn’t he?

Good experience facing the 4-3…which we’ll see for the next two weeks. Hopefully by the time we face Brady and co. we’ll have a nice feel for it and Ryan and Turner can try to exploit it better. Not Turner’s day, or Elam’s but not worried about those guys. Yes, only one win Jeff, but how exciting to be a Falcon fan when the future of this team looks so bright.

What a meltdown by the Panthers JD! Our D will be sharpening the talons this week for the kitty’s.

Singletary

September 13th, 2009
6:41 pm

Mountain Jim made an excellent point about MR2 getting hammered. How many sacks were there? To have only had 17 last year… means we are not going to be able to = Buffalo or Ravens at 11 & 12 for a season.

WHY was Turner trying to run behind Blalock and Baker all day? I thought his A gap was behind Dahl & Clabo.

Hope Jerry and Peterson are okay.

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:41 pm

Just a point for discussion: Did anyone notice that Roddy White is not playing as well as last year? I noticed in preseason and in this first game that he is running lazy routes. He is not coming back for the ball and not coming back to the qb when he scrambles. He looks almost as bad as he did two years ago.

Delmer D.

September 13th, 2009
6:43 pm

Great stuff, Jeffie, right on. Now please say something inspriational to Mark Richt to get us a new defence accordionator.

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:43 pm

We were up against a great D line today. I think that is why our running game struggled.

Reality Time

September 13th, 2009
6:44 pm

I think its time someone gave Coach Van Gorder some love. He definitely can motivate his players..

MightyQuinn

September 13th, 2009
6:45 pm

Wow! I was scared to death of Miami’s offense after the way our D looked in the preseason, but that was pretty impressive. But that was 1/16th of the season. After the 12-4 1980 season the Falcons won their first three games of the regular season and everyone was talking Super Bowl. We wound up 7-9. I remain cautiously optimistic. Tech wins, Georgia wins, Falcons win, Braves sweep Cardinals in St. Louis. Not a bad 4 days, I’d say!

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:45 pm

I didn’t notice too many flags in the game…which was refreshing.

Kyle

September 13th, 2009
6:45 pm

Barry Jay, You’re crazy. It was one game and he had like 6 receptions. Don’t know if you were expecting 18 catches and 250 yards but it was a solid game. Don’t bring that hollow negativity onto this game.

singndablues

September 13th, 2009
6:47 pm

Now who would you rather have drafted last year, Matt Ryan or the totally dominated and flat on his back Long? hmmmm.

Bangkapi Ajarn

September 13th, 2009
6:48 pm

I saw Bierman jumping in and making plays, but not Anderson. Is he losing playing time? Bierman sure earned the right to start and play, right where he should – between the lines.

Kudzu

September 13th, 2009
6:49 pm

Great start to a season. I was completely surprised by our defense, awesome job; this D looks so much faster, closing on running backs, getting in the backfield, 71 is showing sick quickness. The missed kicks freak me out. Whenever a point is missed, I feel like “crap, it may bite us in the butt late in the game”. apart from the kicker, the special teams did a great job… This offense is going to be fun to watch. So many ways to move the ball down the field. MattyIce gets his timing down, we’ll score at least 4 TD’s per game. I wasn’t greatly impressed by the OL play; blocking for the run-not good, plus too many hits on Ryan. Worst part of all of this, I now live in Tampa (Bucs suck) and have to cheer from a distance. Go Falcons! Go Yellow Jackets!

mudcat

September 13th, 2009
6:49 pm

Impressive is the word. If they can do the same thing against Carolina next week, we just may have something. I was really in awe of TG. What a professional!. Biermann looked great. I’m getting good vibes from this group!

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:49 pm

Kyle, just because he had six receptions doesn’t mean he was playing the way he should. A fullback can have six catches and he doesn’t run good routes either. As for negativity…not much of a discussion with everyone acting like nothin’s wrong. It was just an observation.

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:51 pm

Carolina will be a higher intensity game. From what we saw of the D…they are ready. They looked fast today and leveled some slobber knocker hits.

[...] Falcons pick up where they left off – a nice change of pace [...]

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:54 pm

That D line was getting pretty good pressure all game. The D looked like it was mid season. The O, on the other hand, looked very sluggish. But part of that was a really good Miami D and the first game timing issues I think. It will come together.

SirReal

September 13th, 2009
6:54 pm

I was really impressed with the D. I wish Ryan would have hit those misfires but he still had a very soild day. He’s still young and I think he’ll correct that. Turner just went against a stout D today. Still showed flashes of what he will do this year. Wait until CAR next week. Saw what PHI did today? As far as the D, I always felt our front seven was going to be fine. ( I think Jerry and Peterson are ok.) The secondary was my issue. I give them credit today and the Williams pickup was great. We’ll get a true test against better receivers the next couple weeks. ( Smith-CAR & Moss-NE) I like the direction we’re headed in. Glad to see us pull out a win. Here’s to hoping we correct the few mistakes/kinks we have…..thats when we’ll be “scary good.”lol Go Birds!

RFGH

September 13th, 2009
6:54 pm

Kudos defense. Maybe Ryan was not back to full strength after being ill earlier in the week. Offensive line wasn’t moving people off the ball and don’t know what happened to Elam. Wins a win.

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
6:57 pm

I don’t think there is any question…in the short term, Ryan was the best pick. Long will develop and should have a long and I believe, great career. Abraham took him to school big time. The refs could have called holding on just about every play.

will

September 13th, 2009
6:58 pm

BVG may be the best D-coordinator in the world. Period.

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
7:01 pm

RFGH: I noticed our O line was not winning the line of scrimmage. But I think the good Miami D had something to do with that. Elam’s leg has become inconsistent. He can still do the job, but he is going to be spotty this year and could have a couple blocked. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems his leg is not as strong as years past. That makes him overcompensate sometimes.

JSS

September 13th, 2009
7:02 pm

Barry, did you watch Carolina today? They were manhandled today… They have issues, but it is the Falcons, they’ll play down to the opponent… By the way, Miami has a good front 7, that is why you struggle, not just the D-line, their linebackers laid wood all day long!

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
7:03 pm

Enter your comments here

Wink

September 13th, 2009
7:04 pm

We had a good result today…we got the W which is most important. If it’s okay to say Elam botched an extra point & 2 field goals, costing us 7 points; then it should also be okay to point out that Ryan left 21 points off the board today with his throws to White, underthrown, Jenkins, behind him & to Norwood running open to the endzone,free & clear, overthrown.

Surprised the defense took up the slack today. Our D Line got after them. 4 sacks of the QB & forced fumbles & interception. On last drive DB’s reverted to form to allow the touchdown late or the fabulous prevent defense that get you beat. Thanks to Finneran for getting that onside kick recovery. Burner was tipping all day,even though they had 8 in the box.

Overall a good defensive game for a change, took the funk off the offensive Ryan; Gonzalez saved his bacon, which also helped cover it up. Ryan will have to hit the open throws when the opportunity arrives going forward…good game to open with!

bigstack19

September 13th, 2009
7:04 pm

Brian van Gorder and the entire defense should get a game ball. Outstanding work guys. If I hadn’t seen it I wouldn’t have believed it.

realist

September 13th, 2009
7:04 pm

Hey Fin, Where are you???

mountain_jim

September 13th, 2009
7:06 pm

Roddy looked fine to me. The oline/schemes needs to protect Ryan better than today, or he needs to find his safety valve quicker. He took some hits.

Barry Jay

September 13th, 2009
7:12 pm

JSS: didn’t catch Carolina…glad they were treated badly today. I just know when we play other teams in our division the intensity is usually elevated. I think we are going to beat Carolina.

BraveCat

September 13th, 2009
7:21 pm

Oh come on Jeff, NOW your saying how good the Falcons are. I read your previous post. Oh btw, the BRAVES SWEPT THE CARDINALS TOO. Jeff, tsk, tsk.

BraveCat

September 13th, 2009
7:21 pm

oops it is you’re are saying

midnite

September 13th, 2009
7:21 pm

Thanks for the great, well written article Jeff. Thats exactly the way I saw today’s game. The crowd had energy and the Dome had some electricity.

Man, the D looked nasty and won this one for us. Like you said Ryan and Turner were not their best today but Tony has great hands and what a pick-me-up he is. Hats off to Van Gorder and Mularkey.

We are in good hands finally, and fortunate to have Smitty and Dimitroff. These Birds of Prey are a real team! That was exciting to be there and am pumped about next week.

Fin

September 13th, 2009
7:23 pm

Good win by the Falcons. I wonder if the defense is that good or is Miami’s offense just that bad. For the poster who said Roddy was lazy looking today, I ask you to look at the comeback route where he tippytoed up the sideline coming back for the ball. Good Pro-Bowl play!

Dang..I didn’t know Mike Peterson had that in him…ooooowee, he was HITTIN!!!

NoleRick

September 13th, 2009
7:28 pm

I am soo pumped about the season now. Still cautious, but like everyone, the Defense was a huge surprise!!

Nuthin finer than beatin Caroliner….bring on the Kitties!!

Jack G.

September 13th, 2009
7:28 pm

Elam might or might not be at fault on those missed kicks. Kicking is at the very least a cordinated effort between the center, the holder and the kicker. If one of the three gets a little out of whack—-missed kick.

Sonny Clusters

September 13th, 2009
7:30 pm

We was not at the game today because the Braves was on television. We always watch the Braves even when Chipper is being a crybaby and not wanting to play because of a boo-boo of some kind. Chipper should get somebody to kiss it and make it better. Don’t they have a trainer? If the trainer can’t keep Chipper healthy then maybe it is time for a new trainer. How about the one the Falcons use? He seems to keep ‘em pretty healthy when you consider they are thowing their bodies all around on the field and nothing is so sore they can’t play. We was always ready to play when we was playing ball and it pays to stay that way because they could be pro scouts in the audience. We was discovered that way by Coach when we was little soccer players and Coach come over and had candy for everybody and that was back when it was mostly okay to do that. We was never able to understand why Coach had to go away for awhile. We was glad he came back, though. We went on to state championship and the Falcons may, too.

Rankin Smith

September 13th, 2009
7:35 pm

Well hot-damn!

Ed-Covington

September 13th, 2009
7:38 pm

From previous blog:
Again, when was the last weekend that The Birds, Tech and uga won, and the Bravos swept a series; especially with the Cards?

JSS

September 13th, 2009
7:38 pm

Fin, you can’t lay the ball on field… Just can’t do it… Unless you’re GA Tech, they can get away with it… They should have run that package with Pat White more…

Don’t get cocky… Better to get Carolina while they are down and getting their brains back… And with Mcnabb hurt and Vick still ineligible, the Eagles maybe vulnerable for a couple of weeks, so the Saints maybe undefeated as well… And if you don’t overemphasis the good front 7’s give this team fits….

Dear AJC headline writer….
If the Falcon picked where they left off, Larry Fitzgerald would be in China by now,,,

jimbob

September 13th, 2009
7:41 pm

Defense looked great. I was mystified by some of the offensive play calling. What is the deal with going for a bomb on 3rd and 1, not getting it, and then punting?!?

If you were planning on punting on 4th and 1, then why were you just going for a low percentage bomb?

Have some confidence in the offense for crying out loud. The falcons have numerous weapons. There was no reason not to go for it. This was near end of 1st half, IIRC.

Ed-Covington

September 13th, 2009
7:41 pm

Well; Elam, Turner & Ryan all got their sub-par game for the year out of the way and the Birds still won.
GO BIRDS!!

nhe

September 13th, 2009
7:46 pm

Elam came back and hit a 50 yarder folks. He’s fine.

Jamie

September 13th, 2009
7:47 pm

One word-INTENSITY!!