The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter tells Simon Rose why the tight ends were the key to the Falcons’ 35-28 win over the Raiders on Sunday.
FLOWERY BRANCH — After posting a thrilling 35-28 victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Falcons (1-1) are set to face the rival New Orleans Saints (0-2) at 8:30 p.m Monday at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome.
(The Falcons are one ricocheted touchdown grab by Justin Hardy away from being 0-2, but hey, the Duke has to bounce your way at some point over the 16-game season.)
Here are five things to know about the Falcons on Tuesday:
1. Return of Neal: Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal is set to return to practice on Thursday. Neal, who was taken with the 17th overall pick in the draft out of Florida, worked with the first-team defense until he suffered a knee injury against Miami in the third exhibition game against Miami on Aug. 25 in Orlando. He’s been recovering from knee surgery. Because of the strong play of Kemal Ishmael (15 tackles vs. Raiders) the Falcons don’t need to rush him back onto the field.
2. Julio’s calf injury. All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones will be limited in practice this week after suffering a calf injury late against Oakland. The injury is not serious and he’s expected to answer the bell against the rival Saints.
3. Campbell’s ankle injury. The Falcons have not disclosed much information about rookie linebacker De’Vondre Campbell’s ankle injury, which was suffered in a closed practice last Thursday. The team would not give a timetable on his return. If it was just a simple angle roll, more information would likely be forthcoming. If it’s the dreaded high ankle sprain, that would explain the secrecy.
4. The Ice Man is back. The Falcons ran some no-huddle against the Raiders and the old Matt Ryan — Matty Ice — showed up with three straight red-zone scoring drive late to win the game. Ryan has passed for 730 yards in two games, which is second in the league behind Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton’s 732 yards. His passer rating of 121.4 leads the league. His five touchdown passes are tied — with six others — for second in the league. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads the league with six touchdown passes. His 72.6 completion percentage is second to New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (73.9 percent). His 11 pass completions of 20 yards are more are tied with two others for second in the league. Ryan’s four completions of 40 yards or more are tops in the league. The Falcons have some problems, but Matt Ryan is not one of them.
5. Pass Rush Project. The pass rush project continues after the Falcons had another anemic showing against the Raiders. The pass rush will need to show up in New Orleans. Merely getting Drew Brees off his spot will likely not be enough to get a victory.
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24