KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Season openers do not always indicate which way a season will go. But they are like taking off a mask. They can reveal beauty marks that wow admirers or moles that look like a third eye and scare small children.
If there was particular concern about the Falcons’ season opener, it was justified. This year’s first game would come on the road. Openers on the road haven’t mirrored the intersection of joy and bliss for this team. They had lost the last three. The offense hadn’t produced even one touchdown in 12 quarters and an overtime. Matt Ryan? Losses to Pittsburgh and Chicago produced seven sacks, two interceptions and a few rearranged major organs. And he was outscored by a defensive end (Kroy Biermann, interception return).
“I know I hadn’t won one of these on the road,” Ryan said. “It’s a hard thing to do.” True. It’s just not always that ugly.
But when the mask came off the Falcons Sunday, there was no third eye on offense. Just a pair of eyes in the coach’s box that seemed to be looking in the right direction.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter made his debut as the team’s offensive coordinator. The Falcons produced four touchdowns and four field goals in their first eight possessions. Only then was punter Matt Bosher summoned from his Barcalounger and asked to put down the sandwich and remote control because the team actually had to kick the ball to the other team. Bosher’s lone punt came with 3:16 left in the game.
“I think he had a bunch of holds [for placekicks],” Ryan said. “That’s better action for him anyhow.”
The Falcons won their season opener 40-24 over Kansas City. They led 40-17 early in the final quarter. OK. The Chiefs’ defense was significantly dented by injuries and a suspension. Three straight second-half turnovers also gift wrapped 13 Falcons’ points. But this was the kind of offensive showing they’ve been waiting for. For too long, they have been less than the sum of their parts.
Ryan was great (23 for 31, 3 TDs, 136.4 efficiency rating). Julio Jones was whatever is north of great (6 catches for 108 and 2 touchdowns in the first 2½ quarters). Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez each had strong supporting roles.
But the most credit should go to Koetter, whose play-calling – including this strange and wonderful creation from another planet called a screen pass – directed the whole show.
“This is what it was supposed to be like last year,” said White, in a veiled shot at former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. “This is what we expected.”
When asked directly about Koetter, White said: “He’s relentless. He goes after it no matter what. He never lets the defense relax. You can see what he’s capable of in play-calling. You just have to go out there and execute the plays.
“We don’t even know what he’s going to call. There might be a time when one play will come in, then he’ll say, ‘No, no. Let’s do this instead.’ It’s a whole lot different than last year.”
You won’t read any Koetter quotes in this column because head coach Mike Smith doesn’t permit any of his coordinators to speak after games — only on late Tuesday afternoons, when the last game has long passed and the next game is five days away.
But the reviews from players have been glowing. Gonzalez, whose third-quarter touchdown catch and trademark crossbar spike drew boos from the Chiefs’ fans — who used to be his fans — said: “I don’t know how, but Matt’s just understanding everything that’s going on with this offense. He’s got a complete grasp of it.”
When asked if he agreed with White’s assessment about Koetter being unpredictable, Gonzalez said, “Yeah, and that’s what you kind of want. One thing about this offense is it’s not one dimensional. We can run ball, we caan throw it to Roddy, Julio, Harry [Douglas], me. That’s going to keep defenses on their heels this year.”
Ryan is in his fifth season. Smith said of his performance Sunday, “That might be the best game that he’s played.”
It doesn’t guarantee anything for next week against Denver, or Dallas, New York or Detroit. But finally, we saw more than mere hints of this offense’s potential. In week one and on the road, that’s a significant plus.
By Jeff Schultz
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