Julio Jones: We don't need Matt Ryan to be Superman, but he was Sunday

ATLANTA -- Wide receiver Julio Jones frowned and shook his head as he reflected on the negative chatter surrounding his Atlanta Falcons heading into Week 2 of the NFL schedule.

Critics called for offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's head, moaned about quarterback Matt Ryan's season-opening performance, and expressed skepticism about the long-term health of Devonta Freeman with the running back sidelined by yet another right knee injury.

Despite all the outside "noise" cluttering the airwaves, Jones never lost faith in his teammates and coaches. And he certainly had no doubts about Ryan, even though they're still working on connecting with the deep ball.

"In my eyes, Matt always plays good to me," Jones told ESPN. "People always look at Matt and sometimes he's getting pressure or whatever have you. But all of us are going to have games here and there where it looks bad, but it's not bad.

"As long as Matt gives us his all, that's all I want from him. I don't need him to go out there and be Superman. But he did on that touchdown run."

Jones' reference was to Ryan's critical 8-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter of the Falcons' 31-24 triumph against NFC South foe Carolina on Sunday. Ryan decided to tuck it and run on a third-and-5 play, making a Michael Vick-like cutback and then leaping into the end zone with multiple defenders flying at him -- kind of like the move Dennis Quaid pulled off in the movie "Any Given Sunday."

Someone asked Ryan, who scored two rushing touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career, if he upstaged Cam Newton with his fancy footwork.

"Listen, I'm not going to out-Cam Cam," Ryan joked of his quarterback counterpart. "He can run. He can legitimately run. Mine was just the opportunity presented itself. We were that close. I felt I could make the play to get in, simple as it was."

Ryan and the Falcons made things look simple offensively against a rather respectable Panthers defense, which is bad news for the rest of the league. Everyone knows about the offensive firepower the Falcons possess. If they consistently put it together, there's no reason why they shouldn't contend for the NFC South title and perhaps even for a Super Bowl berth.

But Ryan cautioned his teammates not to get ahead of themselves after a stellar overall offensive performance -- the rebuilt defense, playing without safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones, still needs much work -- but it's something to build upon with Drew Brees and the bitter rival New Orleans Saints coming to town next.

What went right for the Falcons? For starters, they were 4-for-4 in the red zone after opening the season 1-for-5 in the red zone in an 18-12 season-opening loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Against Carolina, Ryan hit rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley for an 11-yard touchdown and tight end Austin Hooper for an 8-yard score to go with his two rushing touchdowns.

"Like I said earlier in the week, it was just one of those things, like it was never no stress on us to score in the red zone," Jones said. "It was more so like everyone just doing their job. That's what it was. We had one guy off here and there in the red zone and we wasn't clicking [versus Philadelphia].

"Now you see today, everybody just do your job. We don't need to overthink this thing. We don't need to make up things. We don't need new plays. We don't need none of that. Let's go out here and just take what they give us. They played three-over-two to me and [Mohamed] Sanu to the left side, even though we had one-on-one backside. Calvin, touchdown. Hoop, touchdown. I mean, it's really simple for us down there, because we have a lot of talent on this team and everybody can make plays."

It certainly helps the cause when you can establish a strong running game to pair alongside the passing attack, which the Falcons did against Carolina, with Tevin Coleman going for 107 rushing yards on 16 carries. The Panthers hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 21 consecutive games. The Falcons rushed for 170 total yards on 32 attempts. Against the Eagles, they ran the ball 18 times for 74 yards.

"Well, to me, it starts up front," said Ryan, who was not sacked on Sunday. "Our offensive line did an excellent job both in the run game and in the pass game. But Tevin, when he got his opportunity, obviously with Devonta Freeman being down, you never want to have that happen, but we're so fortunate to have two explosive backs, guys that can carry the load for us, and he did a great job today.

"I mean, he got what we blocked for and more. I mean, his ability to break guys off, double people up and keep runs going, and knife runs at the end, get low and get those extra yards, it was impressive to watch. And then I thought Ito Smith came in and did a really nice job for us, too, ran the ball effectively."

Ryan made sure to say he thought Sarkisian did a "great job" calling the plays. It was evident with the way the ball was spread around to eight different receivers, led by five catches each for Jones and Hooper.

Now for the Falcons, it's about sustaining the offensive momentum while cleaning up the issues that led to surrendering too many explosive plays on defense. Injuries might factor in on offense, too, with Freeman banged up and starting left guard Andy Levitre dealing with an elbow injury again.

"We knew the work that we're doing is right, and we knew the process we were going through was right, so we were going to stay committed to that," coach Dan Quinn said, referring to the offense. "By no means have we solved any of the issues that come up. We're going to continue to dig and fight in all parts of our game."

In other words, the Falcons are far from a finished product. But winning a division game at home was a step in the right direction.