ATLANTA (AP) — New season. New stadium. Same ol’ result.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons picked up where they left off against the Green Bay Packers, building a big halftime lead on the way to a dominating 34-23 victory Sunday night. The rematch of last season’s NFC championship game was essentially a repeat: Ryan threw for 252 yards and a touchdown, Devonta Freeman had a couple of scoring runs, and Desmond Trufant darted to the end zone off an attempted pass by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that was ruled a fumble.
“We came out aggressive,” said Julio Jones, who had five catches for 108 yards. “We did a great job and got after them.”
Back in January at the Georgia Dome, Atlanta earned a trip to the Super Bowl by racing to a 31-0 edge early in the third quarter on the way to a 44-21 blowout of the Packers.
In the first regular-season NFL game at $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium — and the first sporting event in which the facility’s camera lens-like roof was open — the Falcons put on quite a show to mark the occasion.
They were ahead 24-7 at halftime and 31-7 less than a minute into the third period.
Unlike the Super Bowl , Atlanta (2-0) made sure this lead stood up.
Ryan threw for 201 yards in the first half, getting Jones involved in the offense. Freeman rushed for 84 yards, and Tevin Coleman chipped in with 42 on the ground plus a touchdown catch. Trufant not only scored a defensive touchdown, he came up with a crucial interception near the end of the first half.
“That’s when we really come to light,” coach Dan Quinn said. “Different weapons. You never know who’s going to be the one.”
After struggling a bit offensively in a season-opening victory at Chicago that was preserved with a goal-line stand in the closing seconds, the Falcons dominated right from the start in an early showdown for conference supremacy.
“If we get down to a tie-breaker, this game could be a big one,” Rodgers said, already looking far down the road.
On the opening possession, Ryan guided a nine-play, 86-yard drive that was reminiscent of the league’s highest-scoring team a year ago. Jones hauled in two passes for 53 yards and the Falcons didn’t get to third down until they were at the Green Bay 1. Freeman powered in from there to make it 7-0.
The Packers (1-1) responded with a 75-yard drive of their own, capped by Ty Montgomery’s 1-yard TD run. But it was downhill from there for Rodgers and his offense, which was missing both of its starting tackles and lost receiver Jordy Nelson early on with a quadriceps injury.
Atlanta led 17-7 after Freeman’s second TD run from 2 yards out and Matt Bryant’s 51-yard field goal. Then, the game totally got away from Rodgers and the Packers near the end of the first half. Three penalties in four plays — one a disputed offensive pass interference that wiped out a 36-yard gain — pushed Green Bay back to its own 3 before Rodgers lofted a terrible pass down the right sideline that was picked off easily by Trufant at the 36.
Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu with a 21-yard pass, setting up a 3-yard scoring pass to Coleman with 24 seconds remaining .
On the second play of the second half, Trufant turned it into a rout .
Rodgers was plastered by 2016 sack leader Vic Beasley Jr. attempting to throw, the ball wobbling out of his hand for what appeared an incomplete pass. But Trufant wisely scooped it up and scooted into the end zone for what was ruled a 15-yard touchdown. The call stood when the replay didn’t show conclusively that the pass went forward.
“A big play by him with the interception at the end of the half,” Quinn said, “then a smart play to start the second half on the forced fumble.”
The Packers finally showed a bit of life with a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns, including Rodgers’ 300th career scoring pass .
It wasn’t nearly enough.
Green Bay: Already short-handed up front, the Packers lost several more players during the game. Nelson was the most prominent injury, but also going down were defensive tackle Mike Daniel (hamstring), receiver Randall Cobb (shoulder) and cornerback Davon House (quad). In addition, backup safety Kentrell Brice was forced out by a groin injury.
Atlanta: On the first touchdown of the night, right tackle Ryan Schraeder was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The Falcons also lost Beasley (hamstring) and defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (ankle).
Rodgers’ first touchdown pass came on a 33-yard, fourth-down pass to Davante Adams, who made a brilliant play to keep his feet inbounds while kicking the pylon. No. 300 for Rodgers was as short as you can get, a little left-handed shovel pass to Montgomery from the 1.
“They all count,” Rodgers quipped.
Bryant’s first field goal was his 200th since joining the Falcons in 2009, making him the first Atlanta kicker to reach that figure. He also connected in the third quarter from 53 yards.
Green Bay: Return to Lambeau Field to face the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) next Sunday.
Atlanta: Travel to Detroit to take on the Lions (1-0), who face the New York Giants on Monday night.