Matt Ryan couldn’t be stopped.
The quarterback piled up 448 yards through the air – breaking the previous single-game franchise record for yards set by Chris Chandler at 431 in 2001 – and led the Atlanta Falcons to a 37-34 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints in an NFC South matchup. Ryan’s three scores passed set him atop the Falcons’ mark for career touchdown passes, passing Steve Bartkowski’s 154.
And after just one game, it’s clear these aren’t the 2013 Atlanta Falcons.
Matt Bryant was money, too. He nailed a 51-yard field goal to send the game into overtime, and kicked the game-winning 52-yard field goal in overtime.
The Saints won the overtime coin toss and elected to receive. But William Moore forced a fumble on Marques Colston in overtime to give the Falcons the ball at the Saints’ 38-yard line.
Ryan’s great game wasn’t just limited to his stats, however. He was evasive in the pocket, spinning away from sacks to make throws down the field. He also showed off his scrambling skills a few times.
It’s how the quarterback was expected to perform with serviceable protection. Ryan was only sacked once despite prized rookie Jake Matthews going down right before halftime and not returning. Gabe Carimi was inserted in the left tackle spot and played well outside of the lone sack.
Both team’s offenses took center stage as defense was, for the most part, absent with the offenses combining for over 1,000 yards.
Drew Brees put the Falcons defense on their heels right out the gate. New Orleans took a 6-0 lead almost immediately, with rookie receiver Brandin Cooks making big contributions.
After a costly fumble by Julio Jones at the Saints’ five-yard line, New Orleans put together a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
Down 13-0, Ryan led the offense on a lengthy 14-play, 80-yard drive that lasted over seven minutes. A two-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White put the Falcons on the board.
With 20 seconds left before the half, Atlanta showed a little aggressiveness and picked up 58 yards in three plays to get into field goal range. Bryant’s field goal from 40 yards out put the score at 20-10 in favor of the Saints heading into halftime.
But the quick drive came at a cost as both White and Matthews went down with injuries and left for the locker room early. As said above, Matthews would not return.
The Falcons would take the lead in the third quarter after putting up 14 point and holding the Saints to none. Antone Smith flashed his dangerous speed by taking a short pass 54 yards to the house. Smith’s touchdown gave the Falcons a 24-20 lead heading into the fourth.
Both teams combined for 24 points in the final quarter. A three-yard touchdown run from Mark Ingram gave the Saints a 34-31 lead with 1:20 left.
The Falcons responded by picking up 47 yards to set up the 51-yard game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.
Atlanta’s offense is going to be extremely dangerous. Don’t expect the Falcons to pile up 568 yards – which was a single-game franchise-record for yards – each week, but they’ll certainly be able to put up points on any defense in the league. There are just too many weapons to keep up with. And it helps that the offensive line is markedly better than last year.
The Falcons’ young cornerbacks, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, performed admirably against one the league’s best quarterbacks in Brees. While Alford was called for a couple of penalties — and I won’t get into whether or not they were fair calls — he, like Trufant, had key pass deflections. Considering the lack of a pass rush, it was a job well done by the second-year players.
Atlanta has no pass rush to speak of. This was clear in preseason and it unsurprisingly carried over to the regular season.
The Falcons finished the game with 10 penalties for 96 yards. They can’t continue to shoot themselves in the foot and expect to win games.
UP NEXT: AT the Cincinnati Bengals (1-0).