It turns out these Falcons really can fly.
Not bothered in the slightest by a short week and a long flight, the Falcons overwhelmed the Chargers 27-3 on Sunday and are one of three undefeated NFL teams.
Matt Ryan threw touchdown passes to three different receivers and safety Thomas DeCoud had two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
The Falcons are 6-0 in San Diego all-time and 6-0 on the West Coast in coach Mike Smith’s five seasons. Not only do the Falcons lead the NFC South, but they’re 3-0 against the AFC West.
The Falcons beat the Denver Broncos 27-21 on Monday night, then turned their attention to this game.
Smith said the short week and travel “had no effect on us. We’ve had this success because our guys come out and play good football. There is no magic to it. We have a plan in terms of how we want our guys to prepare for the game, both physically and mentally and it’s worked for us.”
The Falcons quickly turned a matchup of unbeaten teams into a one-sided fight.
Ryan, who led two long, impressive scoring drives, completed 30 of 40 passes for 275 yards, with his first interception of the season, and a passer rating of 107.8. DeCoud’s three takeaways, plus William Moore’s fourth-quarter fumble recovery, extended the Falcons’ NFL-high turnover differential to plus-10.
“I thought everybody was fresh and we started out fast - offense, defense special teams,” Ryan said. “A good team win.”
The Chargers haven’t been held to three points since a 30-3 loss at Miami on Nov. 24, 2002.
It was the fewest points scored in coach Norv Turner’s turbulent six-year tenure with the Bolts, and the fewest with Philip Rivers at quarterback.
“I can’t think of one where we haven’t scored a touchdown in nine years,” Rivers said. “The way you lose games in this league (is) you turn it over. You turn it over four times and they turn it over once, late in the game, your chances of winning are pretty slim.”
With Rivers having one of his worst statistical performances, the Chargers dropped to 2-1. Rivers was 21 of 38 for 173 yards, with two picks and a QB rating of 45.2.
Ryan led two impressive drives in the first half as the Falcons took control. He threw touchdown passes of 8 yards to Jacquizz Rodgers and 7 to Tony Gonzalez to cap those drives, and 9 yards to Julio Jones after a turnover gave the Falcons a short field.
Ryan led a precise opening drive, moving the Falcons 80 yards without having a third down. He found Rodgers on an 8-yard scoring pass. The PAT failed due to a bad snap.
Ryan Mathews made his season debut for San Diego and looked good until fumbling inside the Falcons’ 5-yard line on a hit by Sean Witherspoon, with DeCoud recovering at the Atlanta 4.
Ryan then led the Falcons 96 yards in 17 plays on a drive that took 7 minutes, 59 seconds.
Ryan was sacked by Antwan Barnes at the Atlanta 1 on the drive’s third play, but was bailed out on a holding call against San Diego safety Atari Bigby, giving the Falcons a first down on the 14. The Falcons converted four more third downs on the drive before Ryan hit Gonzalez for a 7-yard score to make it 13-0. Fond of slamming the ball over the crossbar after scores, Gonzalez, a former college basketball player at Cal, stopped and popped a jump shot instead.
“We started huddling that drive and uptempoed it later and it kind of kept them off-balance,” Ryan said. “It was big. Our guys did a good job battling.”
The Falcons got the ball back with 1:53 before halftime when DeCoud intercepted Rivers along the right sideline. The call originally was ruled an incomplete pass but overturned after a review, giving Atlanta the ball on the San Diego 29. Four plays later, Ryan threw a 9-yard TD pass to Julio Jones for a 20-0 lead.
Jones hurt a hand when hit by safety Eric Weddle at the end of a 19-yard reception on the game’s first play from scrimmage. He returned in the second quarter.
DeCoud made a diving interception of a pass intended for Antonio Gates late in the third quarter. Rivers, flat on his back, put his hands on his head in disgust and briefly had words with Turner on the sideline.
“One of the things William and I have kind of taken to heart at safety, especially in this new system, is we’ve got to get the ball back and we’ve got a lot of opportunities to do that,” DeCoud said. “It’s evident in our play right now. The more opportunities we give Matt, the better opportunity we have to win the game.”
Smith said DeCoud’s interceptions were “two very athletic plays.”
Ryan had Atlanta’s first turnover of the season when he was intercepted by Antoine Cason at the goal line early in the fourth quarter.
Michael Turner, who was with the Chargers from 2004-07, scored on a 7-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. He was arrested on a DUI charge hours after the Falcons beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 27-21 on Monday night.
San Diego’s Nate Kaeding kicked a 41-yard field in the third quarter.
Mathews had 10 carries for 44 yards.
NOTES: It was San Diego’s lowest home output since a 31-3 loss to Green Bay on Oct. 24, 1999. ... After scoring, Michael Turner flipped the ball and posed like LaDainian Tomlinson during his Chargers career. “That was for L.T.,” said Turner, Tomlinson’s former understudy. “I know he was probably watching the game. Gave him a little love there.”