1:00 PM ET, October 3, 2010
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
On the brink of a 1-2 start, the Atlanta Falcons instead left the home of the Super Bowl champions with a victory that has them believing they can win the NFC South.
The San Francisco 49ers, whom many assumed would cruise through the NFC West, appear on the brink of disaster.
The Falcons try to keep their early momentum going Sunday at the Georgia Dome against the punchless 49ers, who hope a new coordinator can charge some life into one of the league's worst offenses.
Atlanta (2-1) beat Arizona 41-7 in its Week 2 home opener, but sandwiched in between that win have been road overtime games against two of the NFL's elite.
The Falcons won the coin toss but came up short in a 15-9 loss at Pittsburgh in Week 1, and they again had the overtime flip go their way last Sunday at New Orleans. A quick three-and-out gave the Saints the ball, though, and when Garrett Hartley lined up for a 29-yard field goal attempt, it seemed Atlanta would leave empty-handed.
"This is a huge victory for us," Ryan said. "We have a lot of high expectations of ourselves and we fought the entire game to get us in position to win it at the end."
Ryan posted his second straight passer rating well over 100.0 -- Atlanta is 11-0 when he does so -- with contributions from all of his offensive weapons. Michael Turner and Jason Snelling sparked a 202-yard rushing day, while Tony Gonzalez had his first 100-yard receiving effort in a Falcons uniform and Roddy White caught his 12th touchdown pass in his last 16 games.
"I guess everybody's been waiting a long time for us to click like that in one game," Turner said. "It felt good. We've just got to keep it going."
Ryan and Turner certainly helped the offense click last Oct. 11 at Candlestick Park. Ryan threw for a career-high 329 yards and two touchdowns to Roddy White -- who had a career-best 210 receiving yards -- while Turner ran for 97 yards and three scores in a 45-10 win over the 49ers.
That sent San Francisco, which had started 3-1, into a four-game losing streak that ultimately kept it out of the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season.
That drought was supposed to end in 2010, but instead of taking advantage of the weak NFC West, the 49ers (0-3) have been one of the league's most inept teams on both sides of the ball. San Francisco is last in scoring defense (29.0 points per game) and 31st in scoring offense (12.7) after Sunday's 31-10 loss at Kansas City.
"It is stunning because we have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, especially on offense," Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis said. "We have speed, we have guys that love to get after it. But like I said, we need an answer."
The team's temporary answer for its scoring woes came Monday, when coach Mike Singletary fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. He'll be replaced by quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson, who spent 2002-2006 with Atlanta -- the final three years tutoring Michael Vick.
Like Vick, Johnson's current quarterback is a former No. 1 pick, but Alex Smith hasn't resembled a star. Smith has thrown five interceptions and the 49ers have converted 24.4 percent of their third downs -- 31st in the league.
"We're here to score points and win games. That's the offense's job, and we haven't been doing that," Smith said. "We got outplayed just as much as we might have got out-coached on Sunday. There's no doubt about that. We're all involved in this and we're all accountable."
Smith completed 17 of 38 passes for 149 yards and three interceptions in his only previous game against Atlanta, a 20-16 road loss in 2007.
The Falcons have seven takeaways through three games -- six interceptions -- so the 49ers will likely want to get Frank Gore involved early and often. New Orleans only attempted 16 rushes for 43 yards, but Pittsburgh and Arizona averaged 5.9 yards per carry against Atlanta.
San Francisco is 14-6 when Gore runs for 100 yards or more since 2006, and 11-31 otherwise.
Ryan, meanwhile, is 14-1 as a starter at home since entering the league in 2008.
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1. Protect the football: The 49ers lost to the Saints in Week 2 for one simple reason: turnovers. That isn't to imply that San Francisco won't do some throwing on the road, but Frank Gore will be the majority of the offense. Also, when analyzing the 49ers' run game, it would be unfair to overlook FB Moran Norris, who is an exceptional lead blocker.
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|Avg Points Allowed||25.8||15.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||SF|
|Rush Yds Allowed||SF|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Atlanta leads 4-2|
|Oct 11, 2009||SF 10, ATL 45|
|Nov 4, 2007||SF 16, @ATL 20|
|Sep 12, 2004||SF 19, ATL 21|
|Oct 14, 2001||SF 37, @ATL 31|
|Sep 9, 2001||SF 16, ATL 13|