Jay Clemons
Sunday September 7th, 2008

ATLANTA -- What we learned from the Falcons' thrill-a-minute 34-21 victory over the Lions at the newly renovated Georgia Dome, aka The House That Hebert Built.

1. The Falcons made the right move in drafting QB Matt Ryan over DT Glenn Dorsey. Sure, it's only one game and Dorsey, now of the Chiefs, could someday be one of the all-time greats at defensive tackle -- like Bob Lilly, "Mean" Joe Greene or even Warren Sapp. But Ryan, the No. 3 overall pick in April's draft and presumably the franchise's post-Vick-era torchbearer, has already restored the faith of Falcons Nation based on his play against Detroit: 9-of-13 for 161 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. At the very least, Ryan deserves major kudos for the greatest-ever first pass by an NFL rookie -- a Sabathia-like fastball to receiver Michael Jenkins (expertly threaded between the corner and safety), who converted the medium-range skinny post into a 62-yard catch-and-run TD.

2. Michael Turner may lead the NFC in rushing this season. The Falcons were roundly praised for signing Turner (a franchise-record 220 yards and two TDs vs. Detroit) in the offseason. But no one could have imagined that LaDainian Tomlinson's understudy would be the perfect impact back for Mike Mularkey's run-oriented offense. It's a scary thought for NFC South and AFC West foes this year -- Turner toting the rock 25-30 times per game, while running behind perhaps the league's best young tackle-guard combo, in rookie left tackle Sam Baker (another first-round pick from April) and second-year left guard Justin Blalock (an absolute steal as a second-rounder in '07).

3. Apparently, the Lions never threw out Mike Martz's expansive playbook. Granted, Detroit's offense was playing catch-up from the get-go (after the defense surrendered a staggering three touchdowns in Atlanta's first 13 plays), forcing it to abandon the run halfway through the first quarter. But the offensive sets called by new coordinator Jim Colletto -- often deploying three or four wideouts with just one tailback -- came straight out of the Martz Institute of Technology's strategic handbook. This would have been tolerable, if the Lions hadn't gone out of their way last spring to dismiss Martz (now the 49ers' play-calling guru) as a pass-first, pass-second loon -- while boldly trumpeting Colletto's hard-line approach to running the ball.

4. Detroit's defense, on the whole, remains a bottom-rung outfit. It's now fair to ask the following rhetorical question: Which is the real Lions defense -- the one that gave up 474 total yards, 24 first downs and 318 yards rushing against the Falcons (ranked No. 23 in total offense last year) ... or the one which surrendered an absurdly low eight points per game during the preseason?

5. Falcons fans are not playing favorites with team jerseys -- yet. From the press box front row, I counted eight different NFL jerseys worn by the Atlanta faithful -- Ryan, Turner, linebacker Keith Brooking, fullback Ovie Mughelli, defensive end John Abraham, along with ex-Falcons Peerless Price, Alge Crumpler and, of course, Michael Vick. But none of the above captured the jersey-count battle by a definitive margin. I'm guessing that'll change for Atlanta's next home game, Sept. 21 against Kansas City. Who knows, maybe even the Falcons fan wearing Brooking's 56 jersey -- with his own last name "Smith" emblazoned on the back -- will also make the jersey switch to either Ryan or Turner.

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