LOS ANGELES — Matt Ryan had barely sat down to begin his usual post-kickoff, pregame preparations when he had to rush onto the field. A Rams rookie had fumbled the opening return, and the Atlanta Falcons had the ball at the 3.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Ryan, who threw a touchdown pass on the first snap.
The whole day was a series of fun surprises for the Falcons, whose playoff chase is picking up steam.
Ryan passed for 237 yards and three touchdowns and Atlanta forced five turnovers in a 42-14 victory over the spiraling Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
Deion Jones returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown, and Vic Beasley forced a fumble by Jared Goff and returned it for another TD during Atlanta’s comprehensive pummeling of the Rams (4-9), who have lost four straight and eight of nine in their increasingly miserable homecoming season.
Tevin Coleman caught a TD pass and rushed for another score for the Falcons (8-5), who opened up a 42-point lead in the third quarter and stayed atop the NFC South alongside Tampa Bay with their fourth win in six games.
“This is the kind of game where it shows you that all the hard work you’ve been putting in is paying off,” said Beasley, whose three-sack performance was punctuated by that remarkable strip-sack and score. “It’s definitely a great feeling, especially for a defense that’s been giving up a lot of points. To go out there and dominate them just shows what we can be as a defense.”
Even without injured receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta had little trouble from the opening kickoff, which was fumbled by Rams rookie Michael Thomas .
Justin Hardy immediately caught a TD pass, and the day never got better for the Rams and embattled coach Jeff Fisher, who tied Dan Reeves’ NFL record with his 165th career coaching loss.
“It’s offense,” Fisher said after the Rams put up 312 yards and didn’t score until the fourth quarter. “We’re not moving the ball consistently. We’re not converting on third downs, and we’re not scoring points. It’s the problem.”
Todd Gurley rushed for 61 yards and eventually scored the Rams’ first points in one of the team’s ugliest performances of their 10th consecutive losing season.
“It looked like a middle school offense out there,” Gurley said.
Goff went 24 of 41 for 235 yards with two interceptions and a fumble. The No. 1 overall draft pick fell to 0-4 as a starter with a trip to Seattle looming Thursday.
“If there was ever a game to put behind you quickly, it’s this one,” said Goff, who scored his first NFL rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. “We’re not having fun. We’re not enjoying this. It’s awful.”
Ryan surpassed 4,000 yards passing for the sixth consecutive season, tying Peyton Manning for the second-longest such streak in NFL history.
Fisher was booed heavily in the Coliseum, where the Rams haven’t won since their home opener Sept. 18. The Rams have scored only five touchdowns in five games at the Coliseum — one fewer than the Falcons managed on Sunday.
BREAKING IT OPEN
Coleman scored on a short screen pass on Atlanta’s first snap of the second quarter. The rout began moments later when Jones made an exceptional leaping interception and returned it down the Atlanta sideline for a score. Ryan hit a wide-open Taylor Gabriel for a 64-yard TD pass on the Falcons’ opening drive of the second half.
Atlanta, the NFL’s highest-scoring team, needed just 286 yards of offense to post its fourth 40-point game of the season. “For us to be plus-5 in the turnover margin, that was the key,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
Thomas was filling in for regular kickoff returner Benny Cunningham, who missed the game with a neck injury. Ryan hit Hardy with a TD pass on the first snap. Thomas fielded the next kickoff cleanly, drawing a Bronx cheer from Coliseum fans.
Falcons: Jones couldn’t play due to turf toe, and Sanu is out with a groin injury.
Rams: Cunningham is also their backup running back, and his replacement at that spot, Malcolm Brown, also fumbled in the third quarter. … S Maurice Alexander stayed down for a long time after a hard hit in the third quarter. He eventually stood and sat on a cart to leave the field. He was ruled out with a concussion. … DE Robert Quinn missed his second straight game with a concussion.