Falcons build big lead, keep Packers at bay in 34-23 win
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons built a big lead over the Green Bay Packers and, unlike in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots last season, held on for a victory this time.
The Falcons led by 24 points after three quarters and didn’t wilt after two early fourth-quarter touchdown passes by the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers in a 34-23 victory Sunday night.
Atlanta (2-0) came out on top in the opening regular-season game at the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It was a special night for our fans,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Everyone was pumped, and we wanted to make sure we delivered.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 19 of 28 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. Julio Jones had five catches for 108 yards, and Devonta Freeman rushed for 84 yards and two short touchdowns.
Atlanta safety Desmond Trufant, who missed the second half of last season, had a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown and set up another TD with an interception.
“Those were the turning points,” said Quinn, whose team had a late defensive stand to beat the Chicago Bears in the opener. “Last game we had a stand-down at the end. This was a total team victory.”
Vic Beasley Jr. caused the sack-fumble by Rodgers leading to the Trufant touchdown, but the NFL sack leader from a season ago had to leave the game later in the third quarter because of a hamstring injury.
Rodgers, who lost favorite receiver Jordy Nelson to a quad injury in the first quarter and was playing behind a depleted offensive line, completed 33 of 50 passes for 343 yards. He threw for two touchdowns and was picked off once.
“It was a tough situation with the Falcons’ defensive line and the loud environment,” Rodgers said of the Packers missing both starting tackles. “But we adjusted and started playing well.”
Rodgers connected with Davante Adams for 33 yards and hit Ty Montgomery from 1 yard for his touchdowns. Adams had eight catches for 99 yards.
Matt Bryant kicked field goals of 51 and 53 yards for the Falcons, who had no turnovers and were assessed just 34 penalty yards to 70 for the Packers.
“The Falcons won the turnovers and had the big-play advantage,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, “but we showed grit and battled back.”
The Falcons, who defeated Green Bay 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game last season, have beaten the Packers three times at Atlanta in 10 months.
Ryan was 13 of 20 for 201 yards in the first half, connecting with seven receivers, and Bryant booted a 51-yard field goal as the Falcons took a 24-7 intermission lead.
“We were dialing it up and going downfield,” Jones said. “It was all about matchups today. We were trying to put pressure on them.”
The Falcons went 86 and 87 yards on drives capped by Freeman TD runs of 1 and 2 yards, and Ryan hit Tevin Coleman for a 3-yard score in the final minute of the second quarter after the Trufant interception of Rodgers.
Capping a 75-yard drive, Montgomery scored from 1 yard in the first quarter for the Packers (1-1), and Mason Crosby kicked a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter.
“We played well in all aspects. I think the defense played great,” said Ryan, the NFL MVP last season. “The score might have been a pretty big margin, but it was a hard game. This win feels good.”
NOTES: The Packers sustained two major losses in the first quarter, with WR Jordy Nelson injuring a quad and DT Mike Daniels straining a hamstring. ... The Falcons lost RT Ryan Schraeder (concussion) and DE Courtney Upshaw (ankle) due to first-quarter injuries. ... The Packers began the game without RT Brian Bulaga (ankle) and LT David Bakhtiari (hamstring), as well as backup LT Jason Spriggs (hamstring). ... Packers S Kentrell Brice sustained a groin injury in the second quarter. ... The complex eight-pedal roof, closed for the first seven events at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, was open for the sold-out game, which had NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in attendance. ... The Falcons last played outside at home in 1991 before moving into the Georgia Dome the following season.