Monday, September 8, 2008

Falcon Victory over Lions

Record-Breaking Turner Leads Falcons to Victory

Michael Turner rushed for a franchise-record 220 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Falcons defeated the Detroit Lions 34-21 in the 2008 opener.

Atlanta (1-0) exploded out of the gate, scoring on the first three offensive possessions and racking up 216 yards of total offense in the opening period. Quarterback Matt Ryan's first pass attempt of the season -- and his career -- was a 62-yard scoring strike to Michael Jenkins. That was followed by 66- and 5-yard touchdown runs by Turner.

Turner rushed for 117 yards and both touchdowns the first quarter but that was just a sign of big things to come for a Falcons football team eager to show off a new form of intensity for first-year Head Coach Mike Smith.

“We’ve said from the very beginning that we are going to be a team that runs the football," Smith said. "When you run the football, you can dictate to a defense. Prior to the draft, we spoke about being a physical football team and on both sides of the line of scrimmage. We pretty much set a statement in training camp that that’s what we wanted to do. We rushed for 100 yards in all four of our preseason games. We really did a nice job today. Michael Turner and Jerious (Norwood) both ran extremely well.”

A 21-0 lead -- and a season-opening victory also seemed to breathe new life into a fan base that witnessed just four 'W's' in a tumultuous 2007. Each score in the Falcons first-quarter barrage met with boisterous approval from the 62,310 inside the refurbished Georgia Dome.

"I think the fans were really into it, especially early on," Smith said. "That sets the tempo and advantage for our football team. I thought they did a nice job getting loud on third downs for our defense and we made some critical stops on third down."

Ryan, who became the first rookie to start a season for the Falcons since Steve Bartkowski in 1975, finished with a solid 161 passing yards and 137.0 quarterback rating. Turner led a ground game that picked up a franchise-record 318 rushing yards (7.6 yards per carry). The amount of big plays resulted in plenty of big celebrations, as Falcons players danced around the field almost nonstop during the game.

In all, 10 young players got their first opening day start with the Falcons on Sunday.

Some excitement was expected.

"You have to play this game with emotion," Ryan said. "It's a fun game and everyone was out there today playing with a lot of emotion and having a lot of fun."

That easygoing mentality helped when the Lions started to make a run.

The defense surrendered 14-second quarter points, but reasserted itself on the Lions opening drive of the third quarter with a Lawyer Milloy interception. The 13-year veteran returned the ball 38 yards back to the lions 49. Four plays later, Jason Elam kicked a 50-yard field goal to open a 24-14 lead.

The Falcons hit the accelerator again on the next possesion, using a 46-yard completion from Ryan to Roddy White to set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Norwood.

Turner and Norwood were nothing short of dominant in the second half (158 rushing yards) as they darted through holes in the middle of the defense and delivered hits to tiring Lions defenders. The Falcons talked throughout the off-season and training camp about estabilishing an identy based on toughness and a punishing run game.

Mission accomplished.

With Norwood's 93 rushing yards, the Falcons came just 7 yards away from having a 200- and 100-yard rusher for the first time in team history. Turner rushed for multiple touchdowns for the first time in his career, which started behind All-Pro LaDanian Tomlinson in San Diego.

“I thought they did a heck of a job out there," Ryan said when asked about the running game and offensive line. "They were able to set the pace for the entire offense. And for the passing game, our tackles, Tyson Clabo and Sam Baker held the fort down. They were able to contain the defensive ends for Detroit. They all helped set the single-game rushing record, so kudos to all of them.”

As a Charger, Turner often watched as Tomlinson re-wrote the record books.

"I always wondered what it would feel like to break a record," he said. "I didn't even know I was close to breaking a record today, it just happened"

Some would say he shattered the previous numbers (202 yards by Gerald Riggs), which will outshine the solid performance of the team's defense as Week 2 begins. The group bent, but failed to break Sunday as defensive end John Abraham sacked Lions quarterback Jon Kitna three times.

The Falcons now turn attention to a division opponent. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a 24-20 loss at New Orleans Sunday.

"We all know we have a lot of work to do," Ryan said. "This is a long season. We're going to play against tough defenses week-in and week-out. There are certainly areas where we can improve. We're going to get back out there this week, work hard and get ready to go against Tampa."

For now, the team is enjoying a win for the record books.

“It was a great win for our team," Milloy said. "I know that there are not a lot of people that have high expectations for our team, but we have expectations for ourselves and I thought that we showed that effort.”

By J. Michael Moore
Managing Editor

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