Falcons receiver Julio Jones catches a touchdown pass over Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Jacques Reeves during the first half of both teams' season opener Sunday.
WHO: Broncos (1-0) at Falcons (1-0)
WHAT: Falcons’ 2012 home opener.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Monday.
RADIO: WSRA 1250-AM.
LINE: Falcons by 3 points.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Now that’s more like it.
After a confounding up-and-down season that ended with a dismal playoff loss, the Atlanta Falcons were determined to take advantage of their myriad offensive weapons.
They sure looked impressive in a season-opening win over Kansas City. Led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, the Falcons scored on their first eight possessions of a 40-24 victory, not even needing their punter until the final minutes with the game out of reach.
“That was about as high-powered as it gets,” cornerback Dunta Robinson said Monday. “Any time your punter has the day off, you’re doing pretty good as an offense.”
The Falcons had all these weapons a year ago — Ryan and Jones, not to mention Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner — but never seemed to find any offensive consistency. They scored more than 40 points a couple of times, at least 30 in five other games. But they were held to 16 or less in six contests, saving their ugliest performance for the end.
Atlanta’s offense was shut out in the playoffs, a safety accounting for the only points in a 24-2 setback to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
So, the goal heading into the next game — Monday night’s home opener against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos — is to maintain some consistency over the long haul. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has tried to simplify the scheme just a bit for Ryan, making It easier to read defenses and pick up the open receiver.
Judging by how impressive Manning looked in his first game with the Broncos, the Falcons will need another high-scoring effort.
“We felt like we had all the tools,” center Todd McClure said. “We knew if we executed right, we could have that type of production. But going into the game, we probably didn’t think it would be that easy or we’d put up that many points.”
Facing a short-handed Kansas City defense, the Falcons were basically unstoppable. They averaged 6.8 yards per play and finished with 376 yards overall. Ryan completed 23 of 31 for 299 yards, accounting for three touchdowns through the air (not to mention another with a rare run). Jones, a second-year receiver who looked a bit lost as a rookie, seems poised for a huge season after making six catches for 108 yards, including a pair of TDs.
If there was anything to quibble about, it was the failure to score even more points. The Falcons had some great field position, starting four of their nine possessions inside Chiefs territory through a long kickoff return by Jacquizz Rodgers and three second-half turnovers by the defense. They also put together a long drive to set up first-and-goal at the Kansas City 3 late in the first half, only to settle for one of Matt Bryant’s four field goals.
Clearly, the Falcons would prefer more touchdowns and not so many field goals, but it’s hard to complain too much about their efficiency in the red zone — especially playing in raucous Arrowhead Stadium.
“It’s tough to go win on the road,” McClure said. “To go do that in a loud environment like Kansas City, it shows what we have as an offense.”
Atlanta will need all the offensive production it can get, especially after losing star cornerback Brent Grimes to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. Coach Mike Smith announced that Grimes will need surgery after going out in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs.
Even with Grimes, the defense struggled in the first half, allowing Kansas City to trail just 20-17 at the break.
After new coordinator Mike Nolan made some adjustments at halftime, Atlanta stifled the Chiefs the rest of the way. William Moore and Stephen Nicholas came up with interceptions, and John Abraham forced a fumble that was recovered by Nicholas at the Kansas City 7, leading to a touchdown that broke the game open.
That made things even easier for the offense.
“When you score on eight of nine drives, you’ve got to feel pretty good about what you accomplished,” Smith said. “That being said, four of those drives started on the plus side of the 50, and three of those four drives we only came away with field goals. We’ve got to be much better than that. We only scored one touchdown in short-field situations. That’s something we definitely have to address.”
Another negative that stood out — Turner held to 32 yards rushing on 11 carries — wasn’t that big a deal, according to Smith. The Falcons knew Kansas City would try to stop the running game, so they were prepared to win through the air. Ryan spread the ball all over the field, hooking up with Jones and White for six receptions each, while Gonzalez finished with five catches.
“We want to be able to run the ball effectively,” Smith said. “But with our game plan, that was not the main thing we wanted to accomplish.”
Indeed, it was hard to get too upset about anything the Falcons did when they had the ball, especially with a new guy, Koetter, calling the plays.
“We have a bunch of weapons,” McClure said. “It’s going to be hard for defenses to decide who they’re going to try to shut down.”