ATLANTA - It can’t really be this easy, can it?
It’s not supposed to be. Not for a rookie quarterback. And especially not for a team that was 4-12 last year and ranked near the NFL bottom in just about every category that matters.
"It wasn’t easy," said Matt Ryan, the aforementioned QB. "Any time you play a game, there’s going to be difficulties."
Could’ve fooled me.
Sure, the defense had some of the expected problems defending Detroit’s big, fast receivers, but with Ryan at the helm, things went about as smoothly as possible for the revamped Falcons offense.
Ryan’s first pass went 62 yards for a score and was followed by two more touchdowns on the next two Falcons possessions. Ryan didn’t even throw an incomplete pass until deep into the second quarter, and he finished the day with an astronomical quarterback rating of 137.0.
Not that Ryan was the driving force behind the offense. That credit goes to the running game, spearheaded by new running back Michael Turner.
By the time he went to the sidelines to a standing ovation late in fourth quarter Sunday, Turner had put up the best game a Falcons running back ever had. He finished with 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Ryan was more like the the bus driver - just keeping this offense between the white lines. But that was exactly what he needed to be.
For the most part, he was poised, and able to make plays when he was called upon.
He’s also taken on the role of a leader; no easy feat for a 22-year-old in a huddle full of grown men.
"He didn’t play like a rookie today," Turner said. "He did a good job of taking control and letting everybody know that he was in charge out there. He’s kind of a drill sergeant on the field."
Those are the kinds of qualities general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith have touted since picking Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft.
"(Ryan) was very composed," Smith said Sunday. "When we were doing our due diligence way back with Thomas (Dimitroff) and his staff, we met with Matt and we knew from the get-go that this guy had something about him.
"He was calm, cool, collected."
Even more so than some of his more experienced teammates. On the Falcons’ final scoring drive it was Ryan - 20 yards from the line of scrimmage - that ran in and pulled receiver Roddy White away from a verbal skirmish with a Detroit defensive back. If that situation had escalated to the point of a penalty - as situations often do when White is involved - who knows how the game’s final minutes would’ve gone.
But in answering the original question, Ryan was right. It wasn’t easy Sunday, and it won’t be at any time this season.
Ryan did show a couple moments of rookie haplessness when the pass rush forced him into quick decisions, like when he attempted a two-handed push pass to nobody in particular while being pulled down from behind. Luckily for Ryan, this time it fell to the turf incomplete. Next time it may not. That’s just the occupational hazard that comes with a rookie quarterback.
Still, as far as first games, Sunday’s exceeded expectations, and then some.
As Ryan said: "It was a good way to start."