ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan has turned in plenty of impressive performances for the Atlanta Falcons.
This was probably his best one yet.
Throwing for a franchise-record 448 yards and showing some rarely used mobility to keep plays going, Ryan led the Falcons to a 37-34 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints in another thriller between the NFC South rivals Sunday.
Matt Bryant kicked a tying 51-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and won the season opener with a 52-yarder after the Saints fumbled the ball away on the second play of overtime.
But this was mostly about Ryan, who completed 31 of 43 with three touchdowns and eclipsed the team passing record of 431 yards set by Chris Chandler in 2001. Ryan also ran three times for 15 yards and dodged the Saints' pressure most of the day, going down only one time after taking a career-high 44 sacks last season.
"He's played a lot of games, made a lot of plays for us," coach Mike Smith said. "But I was really impressed with his ability to extend some plays by moving around in the pocket. And he was very, very accurate. When you have (568 yards) of total offense and 448 through the air, your quarterback is playing well."
For good measure, Ryan eclipsed the team record for career TD passes. He is now at 156, breaking the mark of 154 held by Steve Bartkowski.
The Falcons beat New Orleans for just the fourth time in their last 17 meetings. This one was particularly sweet for Atlanta coming off a miserable 4-12 season, its first losing campaign since 2007.
"It's a good start," Ryan said. "But it's a long season."
The teams combined for 17 points in the final 2:50 of the fourth. The Saints got the ball first in overtime, but Marques Colston was stripped from behind by William Moore after catching a first-down pass over the middle.
Joplu Bartu recovered the fumble at the Saints 38. Moore flexed his muscles from his knees in the middle of the field, while Colston slammed his helmet in disgust when he got back to the sideline, brushing away a teammate who tried to console him.
"You've only got two eyes. You can't see behind you," Moore said of his play on Colston. "I'm going to continue to work on that and hopefully I can get some more throughout the season."
The game fit right in with a divisional series in which nine of the previous 12 meetings were decided by eight points or less.
"That's a tough game to lose," Saint coach Sean Payton said. "Every once in a while, you get in one of these games where the score goes back and forth. The smallest of details, especially in overtime, magnifies any little mistake."
The Falcons (1-0), who twice trailed from 13 points in the first half, went ahead on Jacquizz Rodgers' dazzling 17-yard run with 2:50 remaining. The diminutive back cut this way and that for a 31-27 lead. Back came Drew Brees and the Saints (0-1), needing only 90 seconds to go 71 yards. Mark Ingram powered over from the 3 for his second touchdown to make it 34-31 with 1:20 left.
That was enough time for Ryan. He completed three passes on the tying drive, the big one a 21-yarder to Devin Hester that set up Bryant's tying kick.
Hester, who has starred as a return specialist, showed he's still got some skills as a receiver. After not catching even one pass for Chicago last season, the 31-year-old had five receptions for 99 yards.
Brees threw for 333 yards, but was picked off in the end zone after the Saints drove to the Atlanta 14 in the third quarter. Colston had five receptions for 110 yards.
The Saints scored on all four first-half possessions, working first-round pick Brandin Cooks right into their already dynamic offense. He hauled in a 3-yard pass that pushed New Orleans to a 20-7 lead.
Atlanta cut it to 20-10 going into the break, thanks to a brilliant leaping catch by Roddy White for a 39-yard gain on the next-to-last play of the half. Bryant booted a 40-yard field goal that gave the Falcons a bit of momentum.
By the end, they were celebrating.
NOTES: In his first game replacing retired right end Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta's Levine Toilolo had three catches, including a 1-yard touchdown. ... The Falcons lost rookie LT Jake Matthews with a left ankle injury on the next-to-last play of the first half. He watched the second half from the sideline and it's not known how long he might be out. ... Cooks finished with seven receptions for 77 yards.
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Posted on Sun, September 7, 2014
by PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer