Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) celebrates a touchdown with his teammates during Sunday’s win against the Rams. Jackson, who was playing against St. Louis for the first time after spending the bulk of his career there, left the game with an injury. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — A bounce-back win for the Atlanta Falcons was marred by injuries Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Matt Ryan threw two touchdowns, and veteran offseason pickup Osi Umenyiora returned his first career interception for a touchdown in the Falcons’ 31-24 win over the St. Louis Rams.
Five Atlanta starters were injured and left the game in the first half, including running back Steven Jackson, who spent his first nine seasons in the NFL with the Rams. Jackson left the game with a thigh injury after catching a touchdown pass from Ryan on the Falcons’ opening drive. He did not return.
Starting corner Asante Samuel (thigh), defensive end Kroy Biermann (ankle), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) and fullback Bradie Ewing (shoulder) also left the game in the first half and did not return for the Falcons.
Falcons coach Mike Smith did not address the specifics of the injuries after the game, saying they’ll release an injury report after Wednesday’s practice.
“It put a lot of guys out on the field that normally wouldn’t have as many snaps as they had,” Smith said. “It was compounded because a lot of those guys play on special teams. The next-man-up mentality is what the NFL is all about.”
The Rams were already down 21 points late in third quarter, before Sam Bradford and the offense were able to take advantage the depleted Atlanta defense.
With 1:30 left in third quarter, Bradford found rookie Tavon Austin in the front corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 24-10.
The Rams (1-1) forced a three-and-out on Falcons’ next possession and had all the momentum after Bradford hooked up with Austin Pettis on a 3-yard touchdown to make it a seven-point game early in the fourth quarter.
But Ryan answered on the Falcons’ next possession, leading a nine-play, 80-yard drive. Jason Snelling capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run through the middle of the St. Louis defense for the clinching score.
Bradford and Austin connected on another touchdown pass with two minutes to play, but the Falcons were able to run out the clock on their final possession.
“When we needed to get a stop, we didn’t get it late in the game,” said Rams defensive end Chris Long. “We’ll be in a lot of games, if we play with that same determination.”
In what many believe to be a make-or-break season for Bradford, the former No. 1 overall draft pick struggled to string together completions in the first half and had several passes batted down at the line. His receivers didn’t help him out much.
Darryl Richardson couldn’t handle a short dump-off pass, and Umenyiora snagged the deflection and raced 68 yards for a touchdown, putting the Falcons up 21-0 early in the second quarter. Austin dropped multiple passes, and tight end Jared Cook was running open on a third down, but stumbled and was unable to make play on a well-thrown ball.
“We did some good things at times,” said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, “We gave up two big plays on defense and then the interception return was really kind of the back breaker. I was proud of our guys and how they hung in there. We got way behind and nobody panicked and at the end we had a chance to win it and we didn’t”
Bradford completed 32 of 55 attempts for 352 yards and three touchdowns
Ryan, meanwhile, hit nine different receivers, with the big play an 81-yard strike to Julio Jones. Jones beat Janoris Jenkins on the longest reception of his career and put the Falcons up 14-0 late in the first quarter. Jones had 11 receptions for 182 yards.
“Julio, in my opinion, is one of the very best in the league,” said Ryan. “Week in and week out, he’s becoming more consistent, which is just part of the maturation process. We’re at a better place than we’ve ever been.”
Ryan finished 33-of-43 for 374 yards, helping the Falcons (1-1) bounce back from their opening loss at New Orleans.
NOTES: The Falcons improved to 34-7 at home in the regular season under Smith and are 21-3 coming off a loss since 2008. … The Rams did not give up a sack for the second straight game. …The Rams lost the field-position battle, with multiple penalties on special teams causing drives to be start deep inside their own territory. Their average starting field position was their 22. … The Falcons avoided a 0-2 start. Since 1990, only 22 teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-2. … Rams starting right tackle Rodger Saffold had his right leg rolled up on and had to be helped off the field in the second quarter. … St. Louis reserve safety Matt Daniels suffered a dislocated ankle and will underdog surgery. … 70,056 tickets were distributed for the Falcons’ home opener.