ATLANTA -- Thirty seconds on Sunday night showed why the Atlanta Falcons might be better equipped for a Super Bowl run this season, provided injuries don't impede their path.
With 54 seconds remaining in the first half, one-time Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, the guy who missed the second half of last season because of a pectoral injury, intercepted a pass by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Four plays later, reigning MVP Matt Ryan found running back Tevin Coleman for a 3-yard touchdown, marking the third time the Falcons converted in the red zone in three first-half red zone opportunities.
It was a perfect example of the offense and defense working in unison to put points on the scoreboard. And the 34-23 victory was the kind of effort coach Dan Quinn expected from his team after a listless showing in a Week 1 win at Chicago.
The Falcons made sure the first regular-season game inside the new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium was a memorable one, and not just because the retractable roof was open. Handling a Packers team also expected to be contenders and fresh off a season-opening win over the Seattle Seahawks was a message from the Falcons to the rest of the NFC that the Super Bowl hangover might just be a myth.
"Man, just to come out and get that second win, and to get the first win at home, no matter who it is, it's just important," said free safety Ricardo Allen, refusing to look ahead to what Sunday's victory might mean in the NFC's big picture. "Just to start off right. We took our win last week, but we wasn't overly happy because we didn't go out and we didn't execute the best. We were out there missing tackles, being overly aggressive. We were doing things that we're not usually doing. So tonight, we came out there and we got to the basics. We got back to what we do."
Speaking of the Super Bowl, Quinn often talked this preseason about learning lessons from the 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots, where the Falcons blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead. The Falcons had a 24-7 halftime cushion Sunday night but didn't immediately relax -- fitting, since their motto all week was "all gas, no breaks." Pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr.'s punishing third-quarter hit of Rodgers was a sack-fumble recovered by Trufant for a 15-yard score and an exclamation point for the defense -- and for the team as a whole.
It wasn't a flawless effort, by any means. The offense wasn't on the field much in the third quarter and lost some rhythm, and the defense had some fourth-quarter lapses that allowed Rodgers to make plays and make it a more competitive ending. But the bulk of the game showed how the Falcons are that much stronger when the offense doesn't have to shoulder the entire load, with the defense picking up some of the slack.
Ryan and the offense certainly set the tone. There was so much talk going into the game about the Packers' "nitro" defense and how tough it would be on the Falcons. A nine-play, 86-yard initial drive by the Falcons, capped by Devonta Freeman's 1-yard touchdown run, put that talk to rest. So did the four catches for 95 yards in the first half by All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, the player Quinn vowed wouldn't be "quiet" again after a pedestrian-like 66 yards on four catches in Week 1. And Jones finished with the 36th 100-plus-yard receiving game of his career. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Jones caught five of seven targets for 108 yards when Ryan faced five or more pass-rushers.
It was more than just the Ryan-Jones connection, though. The running game got going, thanks to Freeman's pair of touchdown runs. Mohamed Sanu continued to be a strong target down the middle. And Justin Hardy might have had the most underrated play of the game -- a 19-yard catch that set up Freeman's 2-yard touchdown.
Defensively, Trufant made good on his promise to get his hands on more footballs this year with his eighth career interception to go with the fumble return. Pass-rushers Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, and Takkarist McKinley put vicious hits on Rodgers, just for future reference. Beasley later left the game with a hamstring injury, and Quinn said he'll provide an injury update regarding Beasley and right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) on Monday.
And let's not forget about the contribution of Matt Bryant, who hit a pair of 50-plus-yard field goals.
With the Falcons beating the Packers, there's no reason to think they can't start 5-0 with upcoming games against Detroit, Buffalo and Miami before the Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots on Oct. 22. Sunday night, the Falcons became only the fourth team since 1999 to start 2-0 the season after a Super Bowl loss. Two of the other three teams made the postseason.
We'll see if that bodes well for the Falcons, as well.