ATLANTA — Two seasons ago, Arizona beat Atlanta in the NFC wild-card playoff game and went to the Super Bowl.
That seemed like a lot longer than two years ago as Atlanta dominated Arizona in every phase en route to a 41-7 pounding Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
It was a complete turnaround from the Falcons’ season-opening 15-9 loss at Pittsburgh.
“We came out with a chip on our shoulder,” Atlanta center Todd McClure said. “We wanted to get our running game going early and maintain it for four quarters. I think we did that.”
Atlanta ran for 221 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per try, and did it without any Jerious Norwood and only a quarter and a half of Michael Turner. Norwood went out after the opening kickoff with a knee injury and Turner had a groin problem.
In stepped — and ran — Jason Snelling, who racked up 129 yards on 24 carries, scoring twice on the ground and once through the air. He caught five passes for 57 yards.
“We definitely made a statement,” Snelling said. “Going back to the little things, like holding onto our blocks, blocking downfield, protecting our quarterback. We put that all together (Sunday).”
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan rebounded from a so-so opener to complete 21-of-32 for 225 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in an efficient afternoon. Roddy White caught seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown to lead a balanced receiving attack.
“I think we definitely improved from week one to week two,” Ryan said. “We obviously scored more points (Sunday) and made more plays than in week one, but again, I think there’s room for improvement.”
Arizona was without running back Beanie Wells for the second straight week (knee), and the offense struggled to 267 total yards, 118 on the ground. But 80 of those came on one play.
Arizona ran for only 112 yards in last week’s 17-13 win over St. Louis and quarterback Derek Anderson was 22-of-41 for 297 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. Anderson was 18-of-33 for 164 yards with three interceptions Sunday.
“The quarterback, when he’s not comfortable back there, he’s gonna throw bad balls and guys are in position to make plays,” Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “I thought he looked very uncomfortable.”
The Falcons were sharp on their first drive, going 70 yards on nine plays, mostly on the ground.
With safety Adrian Wilson trying to tackle tight end Tony Gonzalez in his route, the middle opened up and Ryan hit White for the 7-yard score.
“Pittsburgh, they’re a lot better defensively than the Arizona Cardinals,” White said. “We wanted to go out there and get a score.”
Turner looked good when he broke off a 21-yarder on Atlanta’s first play after forcing a punt, but he was sidelined after gaining 75 yards on nine carries. Snelling took over and the Falcons didn’t miss a beat.
“He’s a great player,” Gonzalez said of Snelling. “I already knew that. When somebody goes down like that, you expect the other guy to come in and play well.”
Atlanta could only manage a field goal after a Christopher Owens interception gave it the ball on Arizona’s 43. An unnecessary roughness call against fullback Ovie Mughelli put the Falcons in a second-and-goal from the 18.
Tim Hightower then gave Arizona short-lived momentum with an 80-yard touchdown run. While there were spells of subpar tackling on defense — as well as special teams — that was the unit’s only real letdown of the day.
“That was a bust by us,” cornerback Dunta Robinson said. “No doubt about it.”
The Falcons caught cornerback Michael Adams in a blitz on third-and-3. Adams ran right past Snelling, who caught Ryan’s short pass and went in from 19 yards for a 17-7 lead with 9:18 left in the half.
Arizona continued to self-destruct and pay for it with three penalties — two on one play, one was declined — on the drive that put Atlanta up 24-7 in the second quarter.
The rout continued when Atlanta converted William Moore’s first NFL pick into a score early in the third quarter, Brian Finneran outbattling Greg Toler for a 12-yard touchdown catch.
Atlanta settled for a 35-yard field goal with 3:57 left in the third, and Snelling added a 7-yard score with 3:05 remaining in the game.
“We needed to have that game,” Gonzalez said. “We needed it for our confidence, just to show people what we can do. It came together well for us.”