The Atlanta Falcons won their season opener in unspectacular fashion 23-17 over the Chicago Bears. The Bears with Mike Glennon under center were on the cusp of upsetting the defending NFC Conference champs when Brooks Reed ended the game on a sack on the Bears QB as time expired on a fourth and goal play.
Sure the Falcons recorded four QB sacks but they were run over and Glennon looked comfortable in the pocket despite his four sacks.
Chicago played tough the whole game and every time the Falcons would grab a lead the defense for some reason seemed to go into a prevent defense mode giving up huge yardage to underneath throws by Glennon and allowing the Bears to run for 126 yards averaging 6.3 yards per carry including a 45-yard run by rookie running back Tarik Cohen who led all rushers with 66 yards and added another 47 in receiving including a touchdown grab in the fourth from Glennon to pull within three halfway through the fourth quarter.
Ryan had an efficient day under center completing 70 percent of his passes for 321 yards and one score – a big one on a pass and run to an incredibly wide open Austin Hooper at midfield who stiff-armed his way past defenders to go 88 yards for the score that gave the Falcons a 10-point lead in the third.
Despite Ryan’s efficient day albeit on-spectacular day under center, he was constantly under pressure. The defending league MVP was sacked twice and was on the run a lot as his pocked collapsed continually. On his touchdown pass to Hooper it looked as if he was going to be sacked when avoided the rush stepped up in the collapsed pocket and launched the ball to midfield to the wide-open Hooper.
Julio Jones spent much of the game as a decoy as Ryan spread the ball to seven different receivers with Jones hauling in four – three in the first half and only one in the second half. Jones also collected his 500th career reception Sunday as he gained 66 yards through the air. Hooper with his big grab led all receivers with 128 yards on two receptions.
The running game was pretty much grounded – pardon the lay on words as the dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were held to a combined 53 yards and an average of 2.7 yards a carry. Freeman did manage to score the game’s first touchdown on a five-yard run with 4:29 to go in the first half. Coleman added 42 yards on four pass receptions.
The Falcons won Sunday something they didn’t do to begin last season. They also beat the Bears in Chicago – something they haven’t done since 1983. To give you an idea how long ago that was Steve Bartkowski was still the team’s quarterback.
The offense for Atlanta was out of sync most of the day and I don’t know if you can blame new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian seeing that before the opening kickoff the first team had played barely two quarters together during the preseason which is for many reasons. You don’t want your stars hurt before the games count and because you are spending the money you do on salaries you want to get your money’s worth and the marquee names are what gets people to pay shy high attendance and parking prices as well as buy all that swag emblazoned with the team logo to add to the bottom line. And despite the slow start the offense did manage to avoid turnovers and came out of the game unscathed despite the fact the offensive line seemed to get bullied by the Bear defensive front.
“We knew coming into it, a tough front seven to go against, very difficult to run the ball against them. One of the better defenses against the run in the league, and that kind of played out that way. But we kept battling and we made plays when needed to,” said Ryan. “Ultimately, that’s what you have to do to win in this league. It’s week one, we’ve got a lot of things we can approve on, a lot of ways to get better, and when we get back to Flowery Branch, and get back to work, we have to attack those things to be the best football team we can.”
Glennon wasn’t bad in his first start for the Bears. At times he looked moiré like Matty Ice than Ryan as he engineered scoring drives to answer most of the Falcons’ scores and had a first and goal at the Atlanta 5 with under 30 seconds to play but three incompletions and a sack later the Falcons held on to win the season opener.
”We could easily have been 1-0 right now standing up here. I think the enthusiasm would be a little bit different, I would think,” said Chicago’s head coach John Fox. “You know, I think we’re capable of getting better as we go.”
”Last year was last year. … We just got in there and got back to work. We just got the win today,” said Jones. “We just put our head down and continued to work.”
If there is any poetic justice for the Falcons on the heel of the Super Bowl loss and the worry of a hangover, the Patriots lost their season opener and were outscored 28-3 in the second half in their loss to the Chiefs Thursday night.
The Falcons will debut the new Mercedes Benz Stadium next Sunday night as they host the Green Bay Packers. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30pm and the game will be aired on NBC.
– Dave Weinthal
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