ATLANTA -- For most of three quarters on Saturday night, No. 1 Alabama couldn't pull away from No. 3 Florida State in their season opener at the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game.
With the Crimson Tide and Seminoles locked in a heavyweight battle in the first college football game played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Alabama went back to the recipe that has helped it win four national championships under Nick Saban -- defense and special teams -- in a 24-7 victory over FSU.
It was far from pretty, but it was another dominating and methodical victory for Alabama.
The final score might have been the least of FSU's worries. Late in the fourth quarter, Tide safety Ronnie Harrison sacked quarterback Deondre Francois from behind while he was rolling out. Francois stayed on the turf after clutching his left knee. He was helped to his feet by trainers but couldn't put any weight on his left leg while leaving the field.
Francois later emerged from a medical tent on the sideline wearing a heavy brace on his left leg and using crutches. He was carted off the field to FSU's locker room.
It was a bitter end to a disappointing opener for the Seminoles. They can blame their not-so-special teams for letting things get away from them.
With the Crimson Tide holding a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter, running back Damien Harris blocked a punt, and linebacker Dylan Moses recovered at the FSU 6. The Tide had to settle for a 25-yard field goal to take a 13-7 lead, but then FSU's Keith Gavin fumbled the ensuing kickoff return.
Alabama's Keith Holcombe recovered the fumble at FSU's 11-yard line, and Harris scored on an 11-yard run on the next play. Hurts' two-point conversion pass to Calvin Ridley gave Alabama a 21-7 lead with 1:41 to go in the third.
The Crimson Tide's defense took over from there, intercepting Francois' passes on each of the next two possessions to help them pull away.
With its 37th consecutive victory in a regular-season nonconference game, Alabama moved into the driver's seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff -- albeit with a lot of football left to be played.
The Crimson Tide were playing for the first time since falling 35-31 to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 9. And Saban will find plenty of warts in their first game since then.
In their second game without former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, now Florida Atlantic's head coach, the Tide had fewer than 300 yards of total offense and passed for only 96. Alabama went 3-for-16 on third down and missed two field goals.
By beating FSU's Jimbo Fisher, Saban moved to 11-0 against his former coaches and 11-0 in season openers.
Even after the loss, the Seminoles can certainly climb back into the CFP race, depending on Francois' health. Of course, it will be an uphill climb for FSU after it fell to the Crimson Tide. No team has won an AP national title after losing its opener since Miami in 1983. With four teams making the CFP, at least the Seminoles' chances will be better.
Ohio State lost 35-21 to Virginia Tech in its second game in 2014 but recovered to win the inaugural CFP. The next season, Alabama lost at Ole Miss 43-37 in its third game, but then won 12 straight to claim a national title.
FSU will have some opportunities to impress the CFP selection committee against No. 18 Miami on Sept. 16 and at No. 5 Clemson on Nov. 11. But it will also need No. 16 Louisville and No. 17 Florida to play better than they did in their openers on Saturday.
For now, though, the Seminoles have to worry about their quarterback's health.