ATLANTA – Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons finally broke loose on offense, with help from an unexpected source.
After a sluggish preseason and failing to score a touchdown in the season opener, the Falcons romped to a 41-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, getting a huge boost from third-string running back Jason Snelling.
Snelling took over after the top two backs, Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood, went out with injuries. The replacement carried 24 times for 129 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. He also hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan.
Ryan threw for 225 yards and matched his career high with three TD passes — just the sort of outburst Atlanta (1-1) had been expecting from a unit with plenty of star power.
Roddy White caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Ryan that got the Falcons rolling less than 5 minutes into the game. Ryan finished off the Cardinals (1-1) with a 12-yard TD to Brian Finneran early in the third quarter, set up by Derek Anderson's second interception.
Arizona had done some of its best work away from the desert, winning seven of its last nine road games. But the Cardinals were outmatched in this one other than Tim Hightower's 80-yard touchdown, tied for the third-longest run in franchise history.
Turner did some good work before he was sidelined by a groin injury in the second quarter. He piled up 75 yards on just nine carries — an 8.3-yard average — and looked much like the runner who ranked second in the NFL two years ago than the guy who managed just 42 yards in a 15-9 overtime loss to Pittsburgh in Week 1.
The entire Atlanta offense stepped it up after being to three field goals by the Steelers, a performance that was a bit troubling on the heels of the first-teamers managing only one touchdown in 13 possessions during the preseason.
They had no trouble against the Cardinals, piling up an overwhelming 444-267 advantage in total yards.
The Falcons defense wasn't too shabby, either. Christopher Owens had an interception, while William Moore and Dominique Franks both came up with their first career picks. First-round pick Sean Weatherspoon swooped in on Anderson for his first career sack, as well.
Anderson had a brutal day after leading a win at St. Louis in the first game of post-Kurt Warner era, going 17-of-31 for 161 yards. Max Hall took over at quarterback in the closing minutes and threw Arizona's third interception of the day, which was returned by Franks to the Arizona 5. The Falcons finally backed off, having Ryan kneel four times.
The Cardinals couldn't do anything right. On the ensuing kickoff after Matt Bryant's second field goal made it 34-7, LaRod Stephens-Howling caught the ball deep in his own end zone, started to run it out, then tried to take a knee. But he had a toe on the goal line, so he had to bring it out. The Falcons bowled him over at the 2.
The frustration for the visiting team boiled over late in the game when Kerry Rhodes jumped up to complain about a call, bumped an official and was ejected.
With Atlanta leading 10-7, Ryan read the blitz perfectly and flipped a pass to Snelling over the head of cornerback Michael Adams. Tony Gonzalez doled out a key block, Snelling cut to the inside and went to the end zone standing.
After Moore's interception, Ryan threw it up for Finneran, who took advantage of his 5-inch height advantage on Greg Toler to leap over the shorter defender and snatch it away. As if taunting Toler, Finneran then ran to the goal posts and tried to dunk it over.
He didn't quite get it there, but that was about all that went wrong for Atlanta.