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Zopf: Falcons on way to winning season
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Atlanta wins division opener against Carolina

ATLANTA – The biggest question for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason wasn’t whether or not Matt Ryan would struggle in Year 2, or whether the questionable defense would hurt the powerful offense.

No, the biggest question is one that has resonated through this franchise for its entire existence.

Would the Falcons be able to have winning back-to-back seasons for the first time in history?

After Sunday’s 28-20 win over Carolina, it appears that it is the case.

But looks can be deceiving, and thanks to a nod from the scheduling gods, this year’s Falcons (2-0) are well on their way from that all-important 9-7 record.

First, let’s see how they got here. And if you’re a team in need of a winning season, I suggest you jot these items down.

For starters, go out and get yourself a Hall of Fame tight end that will do nothing but vastly improve the second-year starter you are employing as a quarterback.

The Falcons did that right by acquiring Tony Gonzalez in the offseason and immediately allowing him to impact the offense.

Following his five-catch, 73-yard and a touchdown performance in Week 1, the future Hall of Fame tight end got things rolling for the Falcons in the first quarter with a 24-yard touchdown reception from Matt Ryan. 

He then wowed the crowd with a remarkable shoestring catch on third-and-7 in the second quarter that –after further review — was a completed pass that set up first-and-goal from the 10. Two plays later, the Falcons took the lead with a 10-yard pass from Ryan to Jason Snelling.

Gonzalez finished the game with seven receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown.

To say this guy was a good pick-up would be an understatement.

Next you need to make sure that Chad Pennington and his noodle of an arm are your opening week opponents.

With a guy that can only throw 12 yards on the other side of the line, your defense will look outstanding. All the holes you thought we there will be covered up, and hopefully you’ll be able to get some turnovers to set up your offense in good field position.

The Falcons have been there and done that.

Finally, make sure the Carolina Panthers come to town.

But also make sure that they bring with them – and start – their inept quarterback Jake Delhomme, who seems to think the Panthers are wearing the wrong colored jerseys every week.

Following his four interception, one-fumble loss game in Week 1, the Panthers’ signal caller did play much better Sunday to the tune of 308 yards and a touchdown, but his coaching staff had such little faith in him that they focused on running the ball instead of testing the Falcons’ secondary.

When the Panthers did put the ball in his hands to win the game late in the fourth, the passer with the propensity to throw a pick did just that.

While Delhomme bounced back might have garnered a few smiles from Carolina fans, the happiness displayed by the Falcon faithful could not be matched. That’s because those fans realized that they have one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL.

Ryan had arguably his best day as a pro, completing 76 percent of his passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and 220 for the game.

It was the first time in Ryan’s short career that he had thrown three first-half touchdowns, but it won’t be the last.

That’s because Sunday was a true sign of the changing of the guard in the NFC South.

Just think about it, just a few years ago, Delhomme was the hotness in the division. He led his team to a Super Bowl as an unheard of gunslinger from Louisiana and was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC.

It looks like that title belongs to Ryan now. The second-year starter from Boston College got back to last year’s form with a great performance on Sunday against last year’s division champ.

First it was the touchdown pass to Gonzalez in the first quarter. Then, it was a short TD to Jason Snelling. Then another to Roddy White. 

Ryan’s passer rating in the first half alone was a torrid 121.8 and he started the second half completing his first 13 attempts.

I guess you could say Ryan is proving to be a great draft choice.

And that’s just more good news for Falcons’ fans everywhere.

Some people were concerned that Ryan would have a down year coming off his rookie of the year campaign of a year ago. He obviously isn’t.

Those same people were concerned that the defense would be the downfall of this championship caliber offense. Yeah, they struggled Sunday, but with the way the offense can put up points, anything more than mediocrity will lead to wins. Don’t believe me? Go ask the Saints.

With those two questions having been answered, there’s really only one remaining offseason issue yet to be resolved.

Will the Falcons have a back-to-back winning season for the first time in history?

There’s still 14 games left, but from the looks of things, this team is well on its way to the history books.

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