FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Quarterback Matt Ryan has the Falcons off to a hot start, just like last season.
Atlanta opened the 2015 season with five consecutive victories and went out to 6-1 before crumbling and finishing 8-8. This year the Falcons are 3-1, lead the NFC South by two games, and have a pair of litmus tests coming up with road games at the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Ryan's 130th regular-season start was one for the record books as he guided the streaking Falcons over the Panthers by passing for a franchise-record 503 yards. Ryan also had season highs in touchdowns (four) and passer rating (142.0) - his highest passer rating and completions (28) against Carolina in his career. Ryan and Jones became the first pair of teammates to have 500 passing yards and 300 receiving yards in NFL history in the same game.
"Well, we had good matchups and (coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan) did a great job of dialing up plays all day, he stayed aggressive," Ryan said. "But at the end of the day, it comes down to Julio making some plays. I thought he played awesome, was huge for us in critical situations and showed how great of a player he is. That was fun to be a part of that."
Jones turned a simple crossing route into a 75-yard touchdown run after picking up a good block down-the-field from Mohamed Sanu.
"Well, it looked pretty good from where I was standing," Ryan said. "That was a great call, a really aggressive call by Kyle in that situation. But we knew they were going to be downhill against the run game, did a good job with play-action passing, got Julio the ball in space and when he gets the ball in space, he's so explosive. He just finished the run so well and that was impressive to see."
Jones had 12 catches for 300 yards and a touchdown. He's looking forward to playing Denver, and is expected to see Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib for most of the day.
"We are hitting on all cylinders as far as the passing game because we had a great week last week in the run game," Jones said. "Carolina figured they were going to come out here and stop the run game and they tried to do that. They left me one-on-one out there and we made some explosive plays down the field."
Jones, who was coming off a one-catch game and his lowest production over the past 54 games, wasn't expected to be so open against the Panthers.
"Especially against a divisional opponent to play one-on-one," Jones said.
After the hot start last season, teams started to figure out the attack. Defenses were able to take away Devonta Freeman and slow down Julio Jones. The Falcons didn't have enough playmakers to make defenses pay.
"It's been really good for us spreading the ball around and getting a lot of different people involved," Ryan said. "It makes it difficult for a defense when you have that many guys catching passes."
Ryan also recognizes the value of new center Alex Mack.
"Well, Alex is awesome," Ryan said. "He's a great leader, he's a great teammate, a really good competitor. He's great during the week, he prepares as well as anybody I've been around.
"But I think all five of those guys have really played extremely well through the first quarter of the season. An offensive line is all about the chemistry between the guys and being able to work together, specifically within our scheme and I think we've got a good group of five guys that are playing really good ball right now."
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS:
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Matt Ryan continued to spread the ball around as he connected with nine different receivers. While passing for a franchise record 503 yards, Ryan also had season highs in touchdowns (4) and passer rating (142.0). Julio Jones has 12 catches for 300 yards and one touchdown. Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had touchdown catches.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C - Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman rushed 21 times for 76 yards for a sub-par 3.6-yard average per carry. Freeman had a nice touchdown run up the middle from 13 yards out. Ryan added 14 yards on four scrambles.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus - Cornerback Robert Alford helped to salt the game away with an interception return for a touchdown and another interception. The Panthers completed 31 of 48 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Most of the yards came after the Falcons took a 34-10 lead and the Panthers tried to rally. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was held to three catches for 39 yards and tight end Greg Olsen didn't get a catch until the fourth quarter.
RUSH DEFENSE: B - The Panthers rushed 15 times for 49 yards for 3.3 yards per carry. Linebackers Deion Jones and Sean Weatherspoon led the charge defensively. Also, Vic Beasley had a big stop of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on a third down.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Returner Eric Weems let three balls bounce that were downed inside of the 2-yard line by the Panthers. He was replaced in the game by Justin Hardy. Punter Matt Basher averaged 47.3 net yards on three punts. The coverage teams also did a good job of containing Carolina's Ted Ginn.
COACHING: A-plus - Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has the offense working at a high level. The Falcons had two touchdown drives of 98 yards or more. Ryan continues to move the ball around to all of the receivers and the running game, while stymied, still produced a touchdown run. Defensively, the Falcons' prevent defense needs some work. After going up 34-10, the Panthers were able to score too quickly. The special teams continued their solid, but not spectacular play.