Matt Ryan might as well change his birthday from May 17 to April 23, because that’s the day Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff traded a 2010 second round pick to Kansas City in exchange for future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
After hauling in five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta’s 19-7 win over Miami in Week 1, Gonzo followed up that performance with a seven-catch, 71-yard effort in the Falcons’ 28-20 victory over the Panthers on Sunday. He also caught his second touchdown pass of the year after Ryan found him on a 24-yard completion late in the first quarter to give Atlanta a 7-3 lead.
It’s still early, but Gonzalez is turning out to be one of he best offseason acquisitions of the year. He’s such a mismatch on safeties and linebackers that it’s almost unfair that the Falcons can use him in the red zone. And when he’s not catching passes, he frees up Roddy White (6 receptions, 53 yards, 1 TD) and other receivers to make plays in the passing game.
For the second consecutive week, the Falcons’ opponent sold out to stop the run. Atlanta’s 151 rushing yards today were hard earned, because Carolina did a nice job bottling up Michael Turner (28 carries, 105 yards, 1 TD) for most of the game. It wasn’t until the Panthers started to wear down (they were on the field for virtually the entire third quarter thanks to a DeAngelo Williams fumble) late in the second half that Turner popped off a couple decent runs.
But because Carolina stuffed the box in order to stop Turner, Ryan beat them consistently throughout the game. He finished with 220 yards and three touchdowns, although he did throw a bad interception in the first half, which was his first of the year.
Switching to the Panthers, you can’t blame Jake Delhomme for this loss. He finished with 308 yards on 25 of 41 passing and connected with Dante Rosario on an 11-yard touchdown to cut Atlanta’s lead to 28-20 with just under seven minutes remaining in the game. Although his interception late in the fourth quarter killed a chance to potentially tie the game (the Panthers would have needed a 2 point conversion too), he played with a lot of confidence today and certainly wasn’t the reason the Panthers lost.
Carolina’s defense just couldn’t stop Gonzalez and Ryan. Every time Atlanta needed to pick up a third down, they moved the chains with relative ease through the air. The pass protection for Ryan was also outstanding, as the Falcons’ offensive line didn’t give up a sack all day.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons do next week in New England. The Patriots are going to be motivated after losing to the Jets today and if Atlanta can get to 3-0, they’ll be in great shape to start the year.
Injury Front: Atlanta running back Jerious Norwood left the game early in the first half with a head injury. He did not return. First round pick Peria Jerry was also hurt for the Falcons, as he was carted off the field late in the game with an apparent knee injury.