New Falcons soar

ATLANTA --- Matt Ryan hopped down the field to celebrate after his first NFL pass, knocking down teammate Todd McClure along the way.


That was about the only stumble on Sunday, as the Atlanta Falcons started a new era.

The new quarterback did just fine. The new running back looked like an All-Pro. The new coach was beaming.

Ryan opened his career with a touchdown on his first pass attempt, Michael Turner rushed for a team-record 220 yards, and the Atlanta Falcons opened a new era with a 34-21 victory over the Detroit Lions.

"We wanted a fast start, and I thought we did that," said Mike Smith, who had never been a head coach at any level until the Falcons gave him a shot.

Indeed, Atlanta scored on its first three possessions for a 21-0 lead. Ryan, the third overall pick in the draft, looked worthy of the starting job bestowed on him after just three preseason games. Ryan hooked up with Michael Jenkins on the third snap of the game for a 62-yard touchdown.

The running game did most of the damage, with Turner handling the bulk of the load. Atlanta's big free-agent signee broke off a 66-yard touchdown, scored again on a 5-yard romp, and had another TD called back by a penalty.

The Lions resembled, well, the Lions. They bickered among themselves on the sideline and slipped to 31-82 since 2001. They surrendered a staggering 318 yards rushing, allowing the Falcons to break their franchise record.

After last season's dismal 4-12 season, the Falcons brought in a new general manager (Thomas Dimitroff), hired a new coach and used its first pick on Ryan, who has been entrusted with giving the Falcons a new start.

So far, so good.

Atlanta took the opening kickoff and handed the ball to Turner on its first two snaps. Then, Ryan found Jenkins on a slant over the middle, hitting him in stride at the Detroit 45 and watching him race all the way to the end zone.

"I was fired up," said Ryan, who completed his first five passes and finished 9-for-13 for 161 yards. "You have to play this game with emotion."

His fellow first-year Falcon showered Ryan with praise.

"He didn't seem like a rookie," Turner said. "He took control of the huddle. He made all the right calls."

Jerious Norwood added 93 yards on the ground, including a 10-yard TD that gave Atlanta a 31-14 lead late in the third quarter.

Detroit's Calvin Johnson, a Georgia Tech alum, had seven catches for 107 yards.



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