And so the house that Arthur built was debuted to the world on national TV Sunday evening. The Atlanta Falcons opened the newly christened Mercedes Benz Stadium in style defeating the Green Bay Packers 34-23 in front of a sell-out crowd.
Perhaps the most impressed person by the new stadium was Blank himself. Blank awaited along with family, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the governor of Georgia and mayor of Atlanta staring straight up for what seemed like a lifetime as he look out at the late summer sky like the children taking the tour of the candy factory in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Blank of course wasn’t the only one standing in amazement of the new cathedral that is the new home of the Falcons and of course the MLS franchise he owns.
After a ceremonial ribbon cutting ceremony it was down to business.
“It’s pretty nice in here. Thank you, Arthur. It’s amazing. From a player’s standpoint, honestly there’s nothing else you could want from a building. We have every opportunity to get ourselves right. We have space. The field is perfect. It’s loud. You could tell that the place was rocking tonight. I think it’s something that we can build on. I think we’re going to start some traditions here that will be things that last for a long time and become a fabric of this organization and really the city. I thought tonight was a great start. The environment was electric. As players, we certainly feed off of that,” said Matt Ryan about his new home.
Coming into Sunday night’s game the Falcons were coming off a less than impressive show squeaking out a win against the Bears the week prior. The Packers in week one put on an impressive defensive show shutting down the Seahawks.
After a convincing opening drive with Devonta Freeman scoring all talk of a Super Bowl hangover has been put to rest – at least for now.
The Falcons displayed a complete effort on both offense and defense as they put up 34 points on a team many think will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers was pushed around, shoved around, sacked and kept on his toes when he wasn’t being knocked off of them by the Falcon defense that is showing signs of jelling quicker than last year’s unit.
Rodgers did gain a lot of ground through the air – 343 yard to be exact. He had to. The Packer running game was nonexistent totaling on 59 yards.
The Falcons ran a more balanced offense and OC Steve Sarkisian won’t catch as much flak as he did last week as the running game got on track as both Freeman and Tevin Coleman found the end zone either through air or ground. Mixed with passed from Ryan who didn’t throw for as much as week one – because he didn’t need to, the offense ran relatively smoothly. A lot of credit for that can be given to the defense.
“What we really wanted to emphasize was our execution. We thought the effort was on point last week, but there was a play here or a play there where it just wasn’t crisp and detailed enough where we missed some. We knew the effort and strain would be there, but could we take our execution up a notch? We really had that as part of our preparation. When we go through the week, we prepare a lot for the opponent and so much of it comes right back to us. That’s really the emphasis that we had in this week. Although we knew Green Bay and the tough opponent they are, it was still going to come back to us and our style, attitude and how we played. We’re pleased to see that kind of execution tonight,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn about the efficiency of the offense on the night.
The Packers won the time of possession game but got nowhere with the exception of one long TD pass from Rodgers to Ty Montgomery in the fourth quarter.
Leading 24-7 at the half the Falcon defense wasted no time in extending the lead. Less than a minute into the second half Vic Beasley put a bone-jarring hit on Rodgers as he attempted to pass. Desmond Trufant picked up the loose ball after a bit of hesitation as to whether it was a live ball or not and ran it 15 yards into the end zone to increase the lead to 31-7.
“I know they take shots. They hadn’t taken one on me yet and I knew it was coming eventually. I just turned around and was in great position and he threw me the ball. I’ve been working on my hands constantly and it is paying off. On the fumble, Vic [Beasley] made a great play. I just scooped and scored and it was exciting,” Trufant said about his two big plays.
If it weren’t for the roof already being opened the crowd would blow it open in the excitement. Needless to say there was no need to pipe in crowd noise on this night. Trufant who missed the lat portion of last season due to injury ha been making up for lost time as he also added an interception to add to his resume that ended a Packer drive shortly after Matt Bryant nailed a 51-yard field goal to extend the Falcons lead at the time to 17-7. Atlanta capitalized on Trufant’s interception as Coleman scored with 19 seconds left in the half on a three-yard toss from Ryan.
That was the end of the excitement for the Falcons the rest of the game. After swapping field goals in the third quarter the Packers attempted to rally late in the fourth quarter as Rodgers threw for two touchdowns, as the Atlanta defense seemed to go into prevent defense mode and the offense was happy just to burn time off the clock.
Despite throwing for 343 yards Rodgers was constantly rattled by the Falcons defensive front as he was sacked three times, intercepted once and fumbled once with both turnovers leading to Atlanta touchdowns. Rodgers kissed the newly christened turf Sunday as he was constantly knocked down and many of his passed hurried.
Ryan on the other hand was an efficient 19-of-28 for 252 yards and one score and no turnovers. Ryan continues to keep his yards per attempt at a high rate averaging nine yards. Freeman led all rushers with 84 yards on 19 carries and added another 16 through the air total 100 yards of total offense. Julio Jones saw more action catching five passes for 108 yards. Ryan spread the ball around to seven different receivers on the night.
With the win the Falcons christen their new home in style in front of a national audience making team owner Arthur Blank quite proud as their TV viewership dwarfed the Emmy Awards.
The Falcons return to the road next Sunday as they take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm and will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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