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Sam Bradford throws for 3 TDS but early hole dooms Rams; Falcons hold on for 31-24 victory

The St. Louis Rams were really rolling by the second half.

If only the hole before halftime wasn't so deep.

Sam Bradford threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, but the Rams came up short in their bid to start a season 2-0 for the first time in a dozen years, falling to the Atlanta Falcons 31-24 on Sunday.

The Rams (1-1) fell behind 21-0 by early in the second quarter, and they were down 24-3 at the break.

"No one gave up," Bradford said. "We kept fighting, made a game out of it."

Bradford hooked up with Tavon Austin on a 6-yard scoring pass late in the third, then went to Austin Pettis on a 3-yard TD that brought the Rams to 24-17 and left plenty of time — just under 12 minutes — to complete the improbable comeback.

But the Falcons (1-1) put together the drive they had to have, throwing on eight straight plays before Jason Snelling ripped off an 11-yard touchdown run — Atlanta's longest play of the day on the ground.

Julio Jones had a huge game for the Falcons, catching 11 passes and matching his career-best with 182 yards. Matt Ryan threw for 374 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including an 81-yarder to Jones.

The Rams still had a chance when Bradford found Austin for another TD, this one covering 10 yards, with 2:09 left. But the Falcons ran out the clock after Snelling caught a short pass from Ryan and rumbled for 22 yards on third-and-1.

"Atlanta is a very good football team," Bradford said. "When you play a team like that on the road, you really have to limit your mistakes."

The biggest miscue for the Rams came early in the second quarter. Trailing 14-0 but driving, Bradford swung a short pass to Daryl Richardson coming out of the backfield. The ball deflected off the running back's hands — and right into the arms of defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who lumbered all the way to the end zone for a 68-yard interception return.

"I kind of took my eyes off the ball looking to run," Richardson said. "I've got to make sure I eyeball that ball in and catch it."

There were plenty of flaws in the Falcons' performance — hardly any running game, another shaky performance by the offensive line, not much pressure on Bradford — but they'll take it considering all the players who went down.

Five starters were done by halftime: running back Steven Jackson (thigh), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot), defensive end Kroy Biermann (right ankle), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) and fullback Bradie Ewing (shoulder).

The Rams also had a couple of significant injuries. Backup safety Matt Daniels broke his ankle blocking on a kickoff return and will need surgery. Starting right tackle Rodger Saffold was hit on the side of his left knee and didn't return.

Jones equaled the 182-yard performance he had in last season's NFC championship game.

"Julio and Matt seemed to be in sync," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "They were seeing the defense the same way."

Jackson, facing the team he played with the last nine years, capped Atlanta's opening drive with an 8-yard touchdown catch, but the celebration was short-lived. Apparently injured when he stretched for the goal line, he walked slowly to the locker room and didn't return.

Then it was Jones beating Janoris Jenkins in man-to-man coverage, breaking free down the middle for the longest reception of his career to make it 14-0. After Umenyiora's return, it looked like a blowout.

Instead, the Rams rallied.

"We never believe we're out of the game until the clock says zero," defensive end Robert Quinn said. "We just fell a play or two short."

NOTES: The Rams held Atlanta to 1 yard rushing in the first half and 36 yards overall. ... WR Chris Givens led St. Louis with five catches for 105 yards. ... Atlanta P Matt Bosher made a huge play at the end of the third quarter, leaping up to grab a high snap in his own end zone. He then got off a wobbly punt that rolled for 63 yards. ... The Falcons avoided their first losing streak since 2009. They have now won 13 straight coming off a loss. ... Rams TE Mike McNeill took a huge hit from Falcons safety William Moore after a catch. Moore lifted the 240-pound McNeill off the turf and slammed him down on his back in a move fit for wrestling.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org