ATLANTA -- Devonta Freeman just wanted a chance.
Wow, he's sure taking advantage of it.
"Opportunity is everything," the second-year running back said.
Taking over as the starter after rookie Tevin Coleman sustained a rib injury in Week 2, Freeman has six TDs in the past two games and an NFL-leading seven for the season.
Against the Texans, he scored on runs of 16, 23 and 6 yards, and set up another touchdown with a 44-yard reception.
Freeman played sparingly as a rookie and missed all four preseason games with a hamstring injury. Coleman got the starting job, while Freeman remained in a backup role.
Hard to see him going back to the bench now.
"I've always believed in myself," Freeman said. "But it's hard to get a feel when you're not playing. I have to get in a rhythm, and then the confidence comes."
The Falcons are 4-0 for only the fourth time in franchise history. They won each of their first three games under new coach Dan Quinn by rallying from fourth-quarter deficits, but this one was over much sooner.
Running back Arian Foster made his season debut after tearing his groin early in training camp, but he couldn't find any room to run. In fact, he had the ball knocked out of his hands by one of his own teammates, leading to a Falcons touchdown.
Freeman rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries and hauled in five passes for 81 yards. It didn't even matter that Julio Jones was finally held in check, catching only four passes for 38 yards. Leonard Hankerson was Matt Ryan's favorite target with six catches for 103 yards, including a touchdown.
Ryan was 19 of 27 for 256 yards.
Mallett's second pass was deflected and picked off by defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, the Falcons taking over at their 46. Freeman took a short pass 24 yards, then darted through a huge hole on the next play for his first TD.
The rout was on.
"We've got to run the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball," said Mallett, who threw numerous passes behind his intended receivers. "Every phase of the game, we've got to do better."
Freeman scored again from the 23 in the opening minute of the second quarter, again taking advantage of some crushing blocks up the middle to reach the end zone basically untouched.
Then, it was time for the defense to get in on the scoring, thanks to Foster's strange fumble. He lost the ball when tackle Derek Newton struck it with his right hand while trying to block. Cornerback Desmond Trufant pounced on the loose ball and took it 24 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
After Freeman's long reception, Ryan hit Hankerson on a quick slant for a 3-yard touchdown.
Atlanta poured it on in the third quarter. Freeman scored another touchdown before giving way to rookie Terron Ward, who quickly got in on the action with an 8-yard run for his first career TD.
Houston's quarterback carousel took another turn when Mallett was replaced by former starter Hoyer late in the third period. He guided the Texans to three touchdowns in the final period, which didn't mean much in the context of the game but may help him win back the starting job.
"That's coach's job to make that decision," said Hoyer, who was replaced by Mallett after starting a season-opening loss to Kansas City. "We'll be ready to go either way."
Mallett was 12 of 27 for 150 yards and a pitiful rating of 46.8. Hoyer was 17 of 30 for 232 yards with two TD passes and a 103.8 rating.
As if the day didn't go bad enough, the Texans had a touchdown called back on the next-to-last play. Then, on the final play, Cecil Shorts III had the ball knocked away, linebacker Nate Stupor scooped it up and ran 84 yards for a score that completed the rout.
Falcons LB Justin Durant left in the first half with an elbow injury and didn't return. ... For the Texans, receiver Nate Washington and safety Quintin Demps were both sidelined with hamstring injuries. ... The Falcons reached the NFC Championship Game the past two times they started 4-0, in 2004 and 2012.
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