ATLANTA -- Matt Ryan surpassing John Elway for ninth on the all-time passing list sounded nice. So did the Falcons boasting three 100-yard receivers in one game for the first time in team history with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.
But it's safe to say Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons would have traded those statistical accomplishments for more touchdowns in a 38-25 season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Ryan’s 450 passing yards and the 401 combined receiving yards between Jones, Ridley and Gage on 27 catches (nine apiece) were meaningless in defeat, particularly with a lot of those yards coming as the Seahawks softened their coverage while leading.
It's no secret how dangerous the Falcons’ offense can be, particularly with the new additions of running back Todd Gurley II and tight end Hayden Hurst. Yet a Falcons team that talked all offseason about faster starts managed just one first-half touchdown against the Seahawks: a 1-yard dive by Gurley. The Falcons had just 12 points at the end of the three quarter, and the Seahawks defense certainly deserves credit for that.
Gurley was asked about their points total going into the fourth with all the talent they have:
"Yeah, you know, just to kind of put points on the board ... there’s really not much to say," Gurley said. "Like you said, with the talent we have in the receivers, the tight end, Keith [Smith] at fullback, me, Ito [Smith], [Brian] Hill at running back -- touchdowns. Touchdowns is what we need. We need to be able to score about 80% touchdowns, 100% in the red zone. And take care of the ball, and we can definitely start getting some wins."
As Gurley said, the Falcons (0-1) have to score touchdowns -- and score them early -- if they hope to avoid an 0-2 start with next Sunday’s tough matchup at Dallas (0-1). The Cowboys, who scored just 17 points in a season-opening road loss to the Los Angeles Rams, averaged 32.1 points per game at home last season. The Falcons need that same touchdown-scoring mentality all season if they hope to compete against the Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady-guided Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South.
When the Falcons limped to a 1-7 start last season, they were outscored 54-27 in first quarters and 144-50 in first halves. Sunday, they found themselves down 14-3 after one quarter and never grabbed a lead in the game.
There were missed opportunities to reach the end zone. Right before halftime, it appeared the Falcons had a shot to at least attempt one pass toward the end zone with a timeout available before settling for a Younghoe Koo field goal. Late in the third quarter, Ryan connected with Jones on a double move for 44 yards, but it might have been a touchdown if Jones didn’t have to slow down. And then the Falcons had a third-and-2 at the Seahawks' 11 and got a no gain on a Gurley run. They went for it on fourth-and-2, but Ryan was sacked, ending any chance to score with under two minutes left in the third quarter.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter could have taken more deep shots earlier in the game; Ryan’s pair of touchdown passes to Ridley came in the fourth quarter, which was too late.
We will see what adjustments Koetter makes this week against Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, a guy he coached alongside in Atlanta during Koetter’s first stint as coordinator when Nolan was defensive coordinator. They know what to expect from each other. But the expectations for the Falcons should be touchdowns.
Although Atlanta’s defense looked improved in some areas such as the pass rush, the offense still will have to carry the load.
"I think the biggest jump typically happens in football from Week 1 to Week 2," Ryan said. "I think that the only way that happens though is the serious attention to detail that it takes and the hard work that it is going to take for us getting back and focused. If we can clean up some of those things from the first time out there and be a little bit better, I think there are positives to take away. It’s a long season."