The Falcons opened their 2012 regular season strongly with a 40-24 thumping of the Kansas City Chiefs on the road. It was the first opening day win for Mike Smith on the road in his tenure, and the third time in five seasons that the Falcons have begun their season with a win.
Matt Ryan had an excellent game, completing 23 of 31 passes for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also rushed for 25 yards on the ground on 3 carries with a rushing touchdown. Michael Turner led rushers with 32 yards on 11 carries, while Jacquizz Rodgers added 7 carries for 22 yards. Julio Jones and Roddy White led receivers, each with 6 catches for 108 and 87 yards, respectively. Jones caught 2 of Ryan’s touchdown passes, with Tony Gonzalez having the third. Gonzalez finished the game with 5 receptions for 53 yards. Harry Douglas also contributed with 3 catches for 32 yards. Matt Bryant connected on four field goal tries of 34, 21, 30, and 41 yards. Matt Bosher only had to punt a single time thanks to the success of the Falcons offensive attack, which went for 52 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 104 yards, including a 77-yarder that set up a Falcons score.
Defensively, the Falcons did not get off to a great start. The Chiefs scored 17 first half points, capping their first three drives with points. The Falcons gave up 292 of 410 total yards accumulated by the Chiefs in that half, including 96 yards on the ground. But they put the clamps down in the second half, able to generate three turnovers. Stephen Nicholas led defenders with 12 stops, and collecting one of the team’s interceptions, as well as a fumble recovery. John Abraham (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); Jonathan Babineaux (1 tackle, 1 sack); Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles); Ray Edwards (2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Brent Grimes (6 tackles); William Moore (7 tackles, 1 interception); Asante Samuel (3 tackles, 1 pass defended); and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass defended) all had noteworthy performances.
The Falcons opened the game with a strong effort on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Ryan’s passing did much of the work, as he completed 6 of 8 passes for 70 yards, including an 8-yard scoring pass to Julio Jones. Jones caught half of Ryan’s completions for a total of 44 yards on the drive. But the Chiefs were able to answer back, having success moving the ball 56 yards on 10 plays before a third down stop at the Falcons own 21-yard line led to a Ryan Succop field goal of 39 yards. On the ensuing kickoff, Rodgers burst open for a 77-yard gain too put the ball firmly in Chiefs territory. A false start penalty on Ryan however stalled the drive on third down, and the Falcons were forced to settle for a Matt Bryant field goal from 34 yards out to take the 10-7 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Once again the Chiefs took over with the second coming commencing and had little issue moving the ball. A 22-yard strike from Matt Cassel to Kevin Boss capped a 9-play, 76-yard scoring drive for the Chiefs to tie the game with 11:33 left in the half. Rodgers 27-yard kickoff return gave the Falcons a boost on their next drive. Ryan hit on all six passes in that drive for a total of 50 yards, including a 14-yard pass to Jones for his second score of the game. But the Chiefs would not be denied, as Jamaal Charles burst up the middle 46 yards on the opening play of the ensuing drive. Seven plays later, Cassel stepped up in the pocket on a scramble and was able to lunge in from 5 yards out for the score to tie the game at 17 apiece. The Falcons took over with 3:38 left in the half, and Ryan helped engineer another scoring drive. A 13-yard throw to Gonzalez put the ball at midfield for the Falcons. Ryan them scrambled on his next two plays for a total of 20 yards, before hitting Gonzalez again for a 25-yard gain to put them at the Chiefs own 3-yard line. But Justin Houston got the better of Tyson Clabo on the next play and two plays later Ryan’s third down pass to Roddy White was incomplete. Bryant trotted onto the field to boot one from 21 yards out to give the Falcons a 20-17 lead at halftime.
The Chiefs began the second half with the ball and relied mostly on their running game to try and slow down the Falcons offense. On a ten-play drive that would move the ball 58 yards, Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, and Dexter McCluster would be the only Chiefs to touch the ball. But Ryan Succop missed from 40 yards out, meaning the Chiefs could not capitalize. The Falcons took over from their own 30-yard line. Ryan hit Jones on a 31-yard strike to put the ball in Chiefs territory. He had another 19-yard gain to put them in the redzone. And the drive was capped when Ryan couldn’t find an open receiver and ran the ball in himself from 5 yards to get the touchdown. The Falcons took a 10-point lead with 5 minutes to go in the third quarter at that point. Then the Chiefs offense began to fall apart. On the third play of their next drive, Abraham burst around the edge to strip Cassel from behind, with Stephen Nicholas on the recovery at the Chiefs own 7-yard line. On the next play, Ryan hit Gonzalez for the score. The defense once again stepped up on the next drive, as on the fifth play of that drive, Cassel’s pass to Tony Moeaki was deflected into the waiting arms of William Moore. Moore’s interception gave Atlanta the ball back at the Chiefs 43-yard line. Four plays and Bryant was on the field for his third field goal try, this time making it from 30 yards. A third consecutive Chiefs offensive series ended in a turnover, with Nicholas jumping in front of Cassel’s pass thrown across his body on the third play of the drive. Again the Falcons could not capitalize on the favorable field positon, settling for another Bryant field goal (41 yards) after three plays. With less than 11 minutes to go in the game, each team swapped lengthy but ultimately unfruitful drives before the Chiefs got the ball back with 3 minutes remaining. With the defense taking their foot off the pedal, the Chiefs were able to drive down and score with 9 seconds left on the game clock. The drive ended when Shaun Draughn scored from 4 yards out to cut the Falcons lead to 16 points. After Harry Douglas took the ball out of the endzone and kneeled, the clock expired and the Falcons had their victory.
Next week the Falcons will return home to take on the Denver Broncos, in their second straight AFC West matchup. The Falcons will be among the first teams to test out Peyton Manning in a new Broncos uniform. The Falcons last game against the Broncos came in 2008, which resulted in a 24-20 defeat, their only home loss of that season. Their last vision of Manning was a 31-13 loss to the Colts the previous year. The Broncos are coached by a familiar face in John Fox, who helmed the Carolina Panthers from 2002 to 2010. The Falcons sport a 11-7 all-time record against John Fox-coached football teams, and Mike Smith is 4-2 in head to head matchups. Mike Smith is undefeated in home openers thus far in four seasons as the Falcons head coach.