ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are in rare territory, sitting at 2-0 for only the 11th time in franchise history.
There are plenty of things to be hopeful about, led by rookie Bijan Robinson.
After the Falcons raised plenty of eyebrows by selecting the Texas running back with the No. 8 pick in the draft, Robinson quickly has silenced the skeptics with two dynamic performances to begin his NFL career.
Lining up all over the field, Robinson rushed for 124 yards on 19 carries and caught four passes for an additional 48 yards in a thrilling 25-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
His totals through two weeks: 180 yards rushing, with an average of 6.2 yards per carry, and 10 catches for 75 yards, including his first career touchdown.
Two games does not make a career, of course, but Robinson's start has rejuvenated a franchise that hasn't had a winning season since 2017.
“He does nothing but good things for us," said quarterback Desmond Ridder, who improved to 4-2 in his young starting career.
Robinson's biggest play against the Packers came on a fourth-and-inches call just before the two-minute warning with Green Bay clinging to a 24-22 lead.
The Falcons were in range for a go-ahead field goal, but coach Arthur Smith didn't want to give the ball back to the Packers with so much time on the clock.
So, he called for a quick pitch to Robinson, who dodged one defender in the backfield and another just beyond the line of scrimmage to rip off a 7-yard gain.
“It's not surprising,” offensive tackle Jake Matthews said. “He's a really, really good player.”
Four plays later, Younghoe Koo booted a 25-yard field goal that capped the Falcons' comeback from a 24-12 deficit and left the Packers with just 57 seconds and no timeouts. Four straight incompletions sealed the Atlanta victory.
Now, before anyone starts penciling in the Falcons for the Super Bowl, it's worth noting they've started the season with two straight home games against rebuilding teams with even less-experienced quarterbacks than Ridder.
The Falcons stymied the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in the season opener, which was the NFL debut for No. 1 draft pick Bryce Young.
In Week 2, they rallied to beat a Packers squad that has replaced longtime fixture Aaron Rodgers with Jordan Love, who was making his third career start.
But the Falcons are starting to feel like they've turned the corner after a difficult rebuilding process.
“We've got special guys in here at every level,” said safety Jessie Bates, one of the biggest free-agent signings of the offseason. “This city deserves to be winners, so we’re just excited to be a part of something special.”
The running game has lived up to expectations.
Robinson has teamed with second-year power back Tyler Allgeier to provide a stellar 1-2 punch. Throw in a mobile quarterback like Ridder, and you've got an offense that can provide all sorts of problems on the ground.
The Falcons pounded the Packers for 211 yards rushing. For the season, Atlanta has 341 yards with an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
“They shredded us consistently,” Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur said.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Falcons had some issues in the red zone.
Most troubling was an early drive where Atlanta had first-and-goal at the Packers 1 after a pass interference penalty.
Strangely, Smith called a pair of passing plays, neither of which came close to being completed, and an inside run by Robinson, who was stuffed for no gain.
The Falcons were lining up to go for it on fourth down, only to be forced to settle for a field goal after rookie lineman Matthew Bergeron was flagged for a false start.
It might help to get tight end Kyle Pitts more involved. He has just four catches for 59 yards, far off the pace of his brilliant rookie season in 2021.
Ridder threw his first career interception and had two other errant passes that should've been picked off.
But in the end, he came through for the Falcons. Ridder completed 19 of 32 passes for 237 yards to go along with 10 carries for 39 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown on a fourth-down bootleg.
“The guys believe in him,” Smith said. “In critical situations, he's at his best.”
CB Tre Flowers had a tough day. He was beaten on a 32-yard scoring pass to rookie Dontayvion Wicks and flagged for a 43-yard interference penalty that set up another Green Bay touchdown.
RB Cordarrelle Patterson (thigh) missed his second straight game, even though he wasn't included on the team's final injury report. When he's finally able to go, the Falcons will have another intriguing weapon on offense.
CB Jeff Okudah (foot) has yet to play, either, as he recovers from a foot injury sustained in training camp.
3-0 — The Falcons have started a year with three straight victories only six times in 57 seasons.
The Falcons are 3 1/2-point underdogs for their first road game of the season at Detroit (1-1) next Sunday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. After that, it's another road game at Jacksonville (1-1) on Oct. 1 before Atlanta returns to Mercedes-Benz Stadium the following week to host the Texans (0-2).
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL
Paul Newberry, The Associated Press