In a hostile environment against a Minnesota Vikings defense that has the talent to be among the NFL’s best, the Atlanta Falcons vaunted offense couldn’t accomplish much in a 28-12 loss.
Shut out for the first three quarters, Atlanta (0-1) finished its season opener with 345 yards of offense, including 272 yards through the air, and two garbage-time touchdowns to Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions and was under pressure throughout much of the afternoon.
The tone was set by Minnesota (1-0) on the first snap of the game when Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr beat Falcons Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Matthews for an 8-yard sack. Minnesota finished with four sacks against Atlanta, which focused heavily on the offensive line this season.
First-round picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary started at right guard and right tackle, respectively on Sunday, but Lindstrom left the game in the first half with a foot injury and McGary was on a rotation with Ty Sambrailo throughout the afternoon.
"Obviously there wasn't a lot of glowing evaluations coming out of tonight's game, it certainly seemed like" coach Dan Quinn said after the game. "The experience for Kaleb to get in and get going against good rushers, I know that pays dividends later.
"With three new guys in, it certainly didn't go like we had planned. I thought we'd get tested by the rushers and guys on the outside with the good blitz package. I thought the group was ready to go, in terms of preparation, but for us to miss the mark like we did ... I'll have a good look at it, but I didn't expect us getting in the hole like we did."
Led by Ito Smith, who finished with a team-high 31 yards on six carries, the Falcons averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry. After quickly falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, however, Atlanta couldn’t continue to press its ground game. In his return to action, starter Devonta Freeman finished with eight carries for 19 yards. He fumbled the ball deep in Vikings territory in the second quarter.
Ryan did complete 33 of his 46 pass attempts for 304 yards and the aforementioned two touchdowns, but he also tossed a pair of interceptions to Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris. The first interception came on Atlanta’s second series of the game, as Ryan tried to get a ball to Jones. The second pick occurred on the Falcons’ first possession of the second half after the team had driven to the Vikings’ 3-yard line.
After the game, Ryan took ownership of the two interceptions.
"Both interceptions today were poor decisions, and it cost us," Ryan said. "It cost us points in both situations. I've got to be better than that."
Tight end Austin Hooper was a standout for the offense. After improving in each of his three NFL seasons, Hooper led all Falcons with nine catches for 77 yards against the Vikings.
Despite the touchdowns, it was a relatively quiet day for Jones and Ridley. One day after signing a contract extension with the Falcons, Jones caught six passes for 31 yards. Ridley caught the first score of the year for Atlanta and ended his afternoon with 64 yards on four grabs. Mohamed Sanu finished just behind Ridley, gaining 57 yards on five catches.
Sunday marked the first game for Dirk Koetter in his return as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator. Turnovers and shaky pass protection limited what Atlanta could do, but this was undoubtedly not the start the team expected.
Atlanta will face another tough test next week, when the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) come to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a primetime matchup with the Falcons on "Sunday Night Football".