|In an over-the-top debut, Matt Ryan saw this slant pass, his initial NFL attempt, turn into a 62-yard TD. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)|
Ryan gets off to flying start
His first pass goes for TD in Falcons' rout
ATLANTA - Matt Ryan hopped down the field to celebrate after his first NFL pass, knocking down teammate Todd McClure along the way.
That was about the only stumble as the Atlanta Falcons started a new era.
The new quarterback did just fine. The new running back looked like an All-Pro. The new coach was beaming.
Ryan became the first quarterback in eight years to throw for a touchdown on his first career pass, Michael Turner rushed for a team-record 220 yards, and the Atlanta Falcons built a big early lead to coast to a 34-21 victory over the Detroit Lions.
"We wanted a fast start, and I thought we did that," said rookie coach Mike Smith.
Indeed, Atlanta scored on its first three possessions for a 21-0 lead. Ryan, the former Boston College quarterback selected third overall in the draft, looked worthy of the starting job bestowed on him after just three exhibition games. In keeping with that numerical theme, he hooked up with Michael Jenkins on the third snap of the game for a 62-yard touchdown pass.
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 run, scored again on a 5-yard romp, and had another TD called back by a penalty. He averaged 10 yards per carry to break the team record of 202 yards set by Gerald Riggs in 1984.
"I always wondered what it would feel like to break a record," said Turner, who also set an NFL record for most yards by a runner in his first game with a new team. "It just happened."
Jerious Norwood chipped in 93 yards rushing, including a 10-yard touchdown that gave Atlanta a 31-14 lead late in the third quarter. The Falcons averaged 7.6 yards over their 42 carries.
The Lions resembled, well, the Lions. They bickered among themselves on the sideline, showed just how meaningless the preseason is (they had won all four exhibition games), and slipped to 31-82 since the start of the 2001 season. They surrendered a staggering 318 yards rushing, allowing the Falcons to break their franchise record.
"It happened, and it was bad," coach Rod Marinelli said.
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 two defenders.
Ryan raced down the field to celebrate, knocking over McClure when he jumped on the center's back. 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.
"I was fired up," said Ryan, who completed his first five passes and finished 9 of 13 for 161 yards. "You have to play this game with emotion."
While Bishop lasted only one year in the league, the Falcons are counting on a much longer stay for Ryan.
"He didn't seem like a rookie," Turner said. "He took control of the huddle. He made all the right calls. He was a real drill sergeant out there. He was letting everyone know he was in control."