- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: This was a huge win on many levels. The Falcons are now 3-0 and in first place in the NFC South. But this one was about a lot more than simply adding to the division lead. This was a statement game for the Falcons, who were playing on a short week after defeating the Denver Broncos on "Monday Night Football" and then had to fly across the country to face a good team. Only good teams are capable of doing that and the evidence is starting to mount that the Falcons are a very good team.
Defense continues to shine: There’s no question the Atlanta defense was responsible for Monday night’s victory. There's no question it was very instrumental against the Chargers, who were unable to score a touchdown. The Falcons forced two first-half turnovers (an interception and a fumble recovery) and that allowed them to take control of the game. They finished the game with four takeaways. It’s kind of amazing how quickly and thoroughly new coordinator Mike Nolan has transformed this defense into a unit with an aggressive identity. Makes you wonder why Steve Spagunolo hasn’t been able to do anything even remotely close with the New Orleans defense he took over. The Falcons and Saints were battling to hire Nolan and Spagnuolo. I’m not sure who the first choice was in either place, but it certainly looks like the Falcons got the right guy.
Controlling the game: Aside from the 20-0 halftime score, the most amazing stat of the first two quarters was time of possession. The Falcons held the ball for 20:21, while the Chargers had it for only 9:24.
Matty Ice for MVP: It’s hard to argue that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t a legitimate MVP candidate so far. Ryan only helped his case Sunday, completing 30 of 40 passes with three touchdowns. All three of those touchdowns came in the first half. Ryan has thrown for eight touchdown passes with only one interception. By the way, he also is undefeated.
Moore from Moore: After Monday night’s victory, I wrote that Atlanta safety William Moore had the game of his life. There wasn’t much of a letdown Sunday. Moore was steady in coverage and also forced and recovered a fumble late in the game. Fellow safety Thomas DeCoud also had another good game, coming up with two interceptions. I could see either Moore or DeCoud making the Pro Bowl. I could also see linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ending up there and maybe even linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who easily is off to the most productive start of his career. That’s pretty impressive because defensive end John Abraham is about the only Atlanta defensive player that has gotten any Pro Bowl consideration in recent years.
Roaming outside the dome: Since coach Mike Smith and Ryan have been around, there’s been a perception that the Falcons aren’t a very good outdoor team. Well, it might be time to rethink that. The Falcons won convincingly outdoors in San Diego and they did the same thing in the opener at Kansas City. The best news of all is that the Falcons only have four more outdoor games on their schedule. They play at Washington Oct. 7 and at Philadelphia on Oct. 28 and the weather in the Mid-Atlantic usually doesn’t get bad until later in the fall. The Falcons are at Tampa Bay Nov. 25 and November weather in Tampa is generally nice. The final outdoor game is Dec. 9 at Carolina. December weather in Charlotte can go either way, but going into North Carolina in December isn’t anything like going into Green Bay in December.
Memo to Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter: Whatever that play was where you had rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz line up at fullback with 12:21 left in the fourth quarter, rip it out of your playbook. The Falcons also had two tight ends in on that formation and Ryan ended up throwing his first interception of the season on a red-zone pass intended for Tony Gonzalez. If you’re going to use that formation, run the ball because you don’t have enough receivers to spread out the defense.
Turner bounces back: Atlanta running back Michael Turner was quiet and ineffective in the first two weeks and he also had to deal with being charged with DUI early Tuesday morning. Turner got off to a slow start against the Chargers, but finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Most of Turner’s rushing yards came in the second half. That’s something the Falcons need more of as the season goes on. If they can keep getting off to fast starts, they can use Turner and the running game to run down the clock later in the game. With Turner's contribution and some help from Jacquizz Rodgers and others, the Falcons finished with 119 rushing yards.
What’s next: The Falcons host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday at the Georgia Dome.