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(Sunday, September 13th)
Final Score: Atlanta 19, Miami 7
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Matt Ryan threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Atlanta Falcons to a 19-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the season-opener for a pair of surprising 2008 playoff teams at the Georgia Dome.
Tony Gonzalez, in his first game with the Falcons after 12 outstanding years with Kansas City, caught five passes for 73 yards and a score in the victory. Michael Turner ran for 65 yards for Atlanta (1-0), which rebounded from a 4-12 finish in 2007 with an 11-5 turnaround and a wild card berth in 2008.
"The thing that I'm happy about is getting a victory," said Gonzalez. "It's been awhile for me. Out there in KC last year [2-14], unfortunately, we didn't have that good of a season. Getting a victory, it feels so good to be in a locker room, the guys are hooting and hollering. The coach is happy, even the negative plays you kind of look at them and say we have to improve on them."
Miami's about-face was even better last year, winning the AFC East at 11-5 in the first year under Tony Sparano after a 1-15 disaster in 2007. The Dolphins (0-1) committed just 13 turnovers last season, but on Sunday gave it away four times.
Chad Pennington completed 21-of-29 passes for 176 yards in defeat, throwing one touchdown pass and one interception. He was also sacked four times and fumbled once. Miami tight end Anthony Fasano fumbled twice after each of his two receptions.
The Wildcat offense that the Dolphins introduced to the NFL last season produced just four yards on three plays.
"I was really proud of how our football team played," said Atlanta head coach Mike Smith. "We played with a lot of energy. They were very enthusiastic and I think our defense really attacked the football with the four turnovers."
Atlanta took the opening kickoff and marched to the Miami 24, but the drive stalled there and Jason Elam missed a 42-yard field goal try. Miami then fumbled on just its third play from scrimmage, as Pennington was sacked and lost the ball, but with a first down at the Miami 37, the Falcons were unable to convert, thanks in part to a personal foul penalty, and punted it away.
The next Atlanta possession began at its own 11 and Ryan directed a time- consuming march for the first points of the game. Last season's top offensive rookie keyed the 14-play drive that ate up nearly 7 1/2 minutes with a 22-yard pass to Michael Jenkins on 2nd-and-15. He then hit Roddy White for 14 yards on 3rd-and-11 from near midfield and connected with Gonzalez for 15 more on 3rd- and-8. Gonzalez then made a nice catch for 19 yards to set up a first down at the Miami one and fullback Ovie Mughelli hauled in Ryan's next pass in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
After a trade of punts, the Dolphins appeared set to put points on the board with a first down at the Atlanta 16. However, on the first play after the two- minute warning, Fasano was drilled by linebacker Mike Peterson after a reception and coughed up the ball at the 10-yard line.
The Falcons, after a 53-yard fumble return, quickly responded with a five-play series that ended with an Elam field goal from 36 yards for a 10-0 lead in the final minute of the opening half.
After a series of punts to start the third quarter, the Dolphins moved from their own 20 to the Atlanta 47, but Peterson stepped in front of a Pennington pass and returned the interception 39 yards to the Miami 20.
Ryan and Gonzalez converted the turnover into a touchdown just three plays later. The quarterback read the blitz and found Gonzalez in the flat, and the future Hall of Fame tight end eluded a tackle and raced to the end zone for a 16-0 lead after Elam missed the extra point.
Fasano fumbled on Miami's next series, but Elam missed a 38-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. He connected from 50 yards away on Atlanta's next series for a 19-0 cushion with 7:35 remaining.
The Dolphins then put together a 12-play, 76-yard drive against Atlanta's prevent defense and scored when Pennington hit Ricky Williams with a short pass that turned into a nine-yard touchdown with 3:22 to play.
"We have talked about staying committed," said Sparano, whose team started 0-2 last year. "Our mentality was tested today. I thought we fought real hard. The team played hard, but we didn't do smart things. That's one of the things this football team prides itself on and I don't think a person in that locker room right now will tell you anything different. We know how to win and lose in this league, and tonight we did things that will force you to not win in this league."
Gonzalez became the 21st player in NFL history with 11,000 career receiving yards...Elam has 39 career field goals of 50-plus yards...John Abraham had two of Atlanta's sacks. He has 86 career sacks and recorded his 19th multiple-sack game...The Dolphins have never been shut out in a season opener...It marked the most turnovers for Miami since committing five in a December 9, 2007 game at Buffalo.
09/13 17:52:27 ET