OAKLAND, Calif. — With Michael Vick in prison and Bobby Petrino fleeing town early, the Atlanta Falcons dealt with more than their fair share of troubles last season.
Even so, they never quite sank as low as they sent the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Matt Ryan threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes to Michael Jenkins and the Falcons held the Raiders to negative yards and no first downs in the first half and their lowest yards total in 47 years in a 24-0 victory.
"During the week, we look like we’re a Super Bowl team, and we come out there and we’re damn near the laughingstock of the league, and it’s ridiculous," said Raiders safety Gibril Wilson, who came to Oakland from the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants in the offseason. "I’ve never been in a situation where it’s been like this, and I don’t know what it is. ...
"The people in this locker room have to look at themselves in the mirror and see exactly what they’re bringing to the table, and if they’re not bringing anything to the table, then get off the ship, period."
In a six-year stretch of losing, turmoil and new lows in Oakland, Al Davis’ once-proud franchise might have reached a new nadir this week in front of a half-filled stadium of fans who began booing the Raiders (2-6) just minutes in.
Oakland finished with just 77 yards for its worst total since getting 58 in 1961 against the Chargers, when Davis was an assistant in San Diego. It’s the lowest total in the NFL since Cleveland gained 26 on Dec. 12, 2004, against Buffalo. Oakland’s three first downs were tied for the third fewest since the merger in 1970, with Cleveland twice being held to two in 1999 and 2000.
"Quite simply, we just did not do anything in terms of what we were trying to do offensively," interim coach Tom Cable said. "It was not a very good effort today by the Oakland Raiders."
The Falcons (5-3) scored on their first four possessions as Ryan had open receivers to pick from almost every time he dropped back, while Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood had big holes to run through.
Atlanta also posted its first shutout since 2002, preserving it with an interception in the end zone by Erik Coleman midway through the fourth quarter. The Falcons set a record for fewest total yards allowed in a game, allowing one fewer than Tampa Bay got in a 17-0 loss in 1977.
"The defensive line did a great job stopping the run and keeping pressure on the quarterbacks to pass," Coleman said. "It really made our jobs easy back there in the secondary."
Ryan finished 17-of-22 for 220 yards, outplaying JaMarcus Russell in a matchup of the first quarterbacks taken in the past two drafts. Turner added 139 yards on 31 carries.
After suffering through the misery of 2007 that started with Vick’s guilty plea to federal dogfighting charges and ended when Petrino fled town with three games remaining in his first season as coach is quickly becoming a distant memory.
Led by a rookie quarterback in Ryan and rookie coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have already surpassed last season’s victory total by one at just the halfway point and are in the thick of the race in the NFC.
"Defensively, I thought it was outstanding today," Smith said. "It was a very dominating first half. I thought we were very efficient throughout."
Ryan beat former Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins to cap the first drive. The two beat Stanford Routt with a corner route for a 27-yard touchdown on the third drive. Norwood added a 12-yard touchdown run and Jason Elam kicked a 48-yard field goal for Atlanta’s other first-half scores that made it 24-0.
"We came out and scored three touchdowns on our first three drives and got the field goal on the fourth," Ryan said. "We had a good rhythm and a good momentum. I thought we did a good job in the no-huddle today. Most of all, our defense kept them from really doing anything on offense today, so it was an impressive effort by everybody."
The Raiders finally got a stop in the final seconds of the half when Gerard Warren sacked Ryan and forced a fumble that was recovered at the Oakland 23 with 16 seconds remaining. But John Abraham brought down Russell with his third sack to end the half, leaving the Raiders with minus-2 yards of offense for the half compared to 309 for Atlanta.
Even attempts at trickery didn’t work for the Raiders, who sent in receiver Ronald Curry at quarterback on the first play of their fourth drive. Before they could even run a play, Robert Gallery was called for a false start and Russell returned.
Justin Fargas’ 13-yard run with 9:26 to play in the third quarter gave the Raiders their initial first down of the game and led to mock applause from the frustrated crowd. The boos quickly returned when Russell lost a fumble three plays later.
The loss was the third blowout in four games under Cable, whose only win came in overtime at home two weeks ago against the New York Jets.