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By Shawn Clarke, NFL Contributor - Archive - Email
It's all about family with Falcons
(L-R) Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White Matt Ryan threw for three touchdown passes in a game for the 17th time in his career.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Atlanta Falcons pride themselves on being held accountable for their actions and having each other's back.

It's what separates the good teams from the bad. It's what makes football in November and December meaningful. It's what being responsible for yourself and your teammates is all about.

The Falcons gathered as one in Sunday's thrilling 37-34 overtime win over Drew Brees and the rival New Orleans Saints in the season lid-lifter for both NFC South foes at the Georgia Dome.

But the Falcons must have short memories and begin focusing on the Cincinnati Bengals because in the NFL, it's a week-by-week approach. Matt Ryan completed 31 of his 43 pass attempts for 448 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. That's great for the quarterback and now it's time to shift gears.

Ryan became the all-time leader in touchdown passes (156) for the Falcons, passing Steve Bartkowski (154), and also set the franchise record for total passing yards in a single game. Chris Chandler passed for 431 yards against the Buffalo Bills in 2001.

"Matty Ice" threw for three touchdown passes in a game for the 17th time in his career Sunday and the Falcons are 19-1 when he has three or more TD strikes. He was honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Bartkowski in franchise lore.

"It's a great honor. No one has more respect for Steve Bartkowski than I do and what he did for this organization," Ryan said. "He's become a great friend since I've been here in Atlanta and a great mentor. I'm very proud to be in good company. It's a really great honor."

Ryan, who was sacked just once after going down a career-high 44 times in 2013, put the long, grinding season into perspective.

"It's a good start. We've got a long way to go. That's one thing that I have learned in six years previous to this, is it's a long season," Ryan said. "You can't get too high and too low after week one. It's certainly a good start for us in the division. It's what we wanted to do. We'll enjoy it tonight but we've got to get back to work. We're going against a very good defense against Cincinnati next week. We'll enjoy it tonight."

There wasn't many joyous moments last year for the Falcons, who went 4-12 one season after posting a 13-3 mark and finishing sixth in passing yards (281.8), seventh in points scored (26.2) and eighth in total yards (369.1) en route to a berth in the conference title game. Ryan was without star wide receiver Julio Jones for the majority of the season and Roddy White struggled with injuries in his time on the field.

Sunday was a different story for both wideouts, however. Jones is back at full strength because of a foot injury and led the Falcons with 116 yards on a team-high seven catches. White had 72 yards and a score on five receptions.

"It's family. We're here, we're a family. Everybody's on the same page and we're all trying for one goal," Jones said. "We just gotta continue to keep working and keep building. It's a good start when you get a 'W'."

Getting the ground attack off to a good start was important for an Atlanta team that was dead last in rushing yards a season ago with 77.9 per game. That's simply terrible. Veteran Steven Jackson missed most of the preseason and looked fresh against the Saints, amassing 52 yards on 12 carries. Falcons head coach Mike Smith used a running-back-by-committee approach and the tactic produced 123 of the Falcons' 568 yards of offense.

Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 34 yards, including a 17-yard TD scamper in the fourth quarter.

"What an unbelievable run. Jacquizz bounced off three or four tackles," Smith said. "I think the way that we attacked offensively with the tempo of the game; we wanted to control the tempo. I think it paid dividends for us on the offensive side of the football. It was an unbelievable run; he probably made five people miss on that play."

Smith was pleased with the effort by the offensive line and had to switch some guys around to keep Ryan fresh in the pocket. Giving up only one sack says it all.

"We concerned ourselves with adding depth in both of our lines, and when someone goes down the next one has to step up," Smith continued. "We only gave up one sack, if my memory is correct. I didn't think that Matt got too much pressure, and I thought that they did a nice job."

With Week 1 in the books and the season off to a promising start, the Falcons know there's a lot more work to be accomplished in all four phases of offense, defense, special teams and coaching. The NFL season is a marathon, and the slow and steady tend to win the race.

Getting out of the blocks with a win can will only strengthen Atlanta's cohesiveness over the next few months. And, at least for now, the Falcons know they can compete once again in a tough division.

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