ATLANTA - Matt Ryan threw for a touchdown with his very first NFL pass, Michael Turner set a team rushing record in his Atlanta debut, and the Falcons were off and running Sunday.
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner (33) runs for a first down against the Detroit Lions in their NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008. Turner set a Falcons rushing record with 220 yards and had two touchdowns. Atlanta won 34-21.
(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Michael Vick who?
Having put No. 7 in their rearview mirror, the Falcons got off to a rousing start in their first game with Ryan and Turner. The rookie quarterback electrified the crowd with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins before many fans had settled in their seats, while Turner rumbled for 220 yards and two TDs after coming to Atlanta from San Diego in the offseason.
The result was a 34-21 victory over the Detroit Lions, who bickered among themselves on the sideline and showed again that a perfect record in the preseason is downright meaningless when the games actually count.
The Falcons scored on their first three possessions for a 21-0 lead. Ryan, the third overall selection in the draft, looked worthy of the starting job bestowed on him after just three preseason games; he completed his first five passes and finished a workmanlike 9-for-13 for 161 yards.
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. Even with that minor setback, he ran 22 times — averaging 10 yards per carry — to break the team record of 202 yards set by Gerald Riggs in 1984.
The Falcons decided to start over after Vick was caught up in a dogfighting scandal last year. He pleaded guilty to federal charges and headed off to serve a nearly two-year sentence, leaving his former team to struggle through a dismal 4-12 season.
Afterward, they brought in a new general manager (Thomas Dimitroff), hired a new coach (Mike Smith) and used their first pick on Ryan, who was quickly anointed Vick's successor.
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 streak all the way to the end zone ahead of Travis Fisher and Gerald Alexander.
Ryan raced down the field to celebrate, actually knocking over center Todd McClure on the way to Jenkins. Michael Bishop was the last quarterback to throw for a touchdown in his first NFL pass, doing it with New England in 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
While Bishop lasted only one year in the league — and it would be his lone TD pass — the Falcons are counting on a much longer stay for Ryan.
Ditto for Turner, who broke off his long touchdown run on Atlanta's next possession, getting loose around the left end, breaking a tackle and strutting into the end zone standing.
The Falcons' defense forced a three-and-out, and the Ryan-led offense marched right back down the field again. Jerious Norwood broke off a 17-yard run, Turner got loose for a 29-yard gain, and Turner finished it off by powering over from the 5, again on his feet as he scored.
With Norwood chipping in to rush 93 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown that gave Atlanta a 31-14 lead late in the third quarter, the Falcons rushed for 318 yards on 42 carries — an average of 7.6 yards per run.
Jon Kitna threw a couple of touchdown passes for the Lions, hitting Roy Williams from 21 yards out and Casey FitzSimmons on a 1-yard score, but Detroit gave few indications they are over last season's 1-7 finish, which ruined a 6-2 start.
Kitna also was seen jawing on the sideline with receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, though they appeared to make up when Jefferson patted the quarterback on the head.