published Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Falcons, Chargers match 2-0 records

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) runs upfield as Denver Broncos free safety Quinton Carter (28) and defensive end Elvis Dumervil (92) defend during an NFL game in Atlanta.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) runs upfield as Denver Broncos free safety Quinton Carter (28) and defensive end Elvis Dumervil (92) defend during an NFL game in Atlanta.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers are about to find out just how good they are.

Wins against the hapless Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans got the Chargers off to their first 2-0 start in Norv Turner's six seasons.

Today the Chargers will host the Atlanta Falcons (2-0) in a showdown of two of the NFL's six undefeated teams.

"We will be tested as heavily as you can be tested," said Turner, who's on the hot seat more than ever before because his Chargers have missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

Philip Rivers agrees. The quarterback doesn't necessarily agree that the Falcons will be at a disadvantage since they had a short week following their 27-21 home victory against Denver on Monday night and then had to fly across the country.

"I'm sure their guys will say when the ball's kicked off, 'We have to go win.' I don't know if it gives anybody an advantage," Rivers said. "When the ball's kicked off, nobody's thinking about the long plane ride or, 'Hey, we played on Monday night.'

"We've got to be ready to go. They've been a playoff team the last few years. Their goals are set high, as are ours, and it should be a heck of a game."

Traveling to Southern California has never been a problem for the Falcons, who are 5-0 at San Diego. They lead the overall series 7-1.

The last time the teams met was 2008, when quarterback Matt Ryan was a rookie. He led them to a 22-16 victory at Qualcomm Stadium.

Heading west on short rest isn't big on the Falcons' list of things to worry about.

"It's something that you get used to the in NFL," said Ryan, who leads the NFL in passing rating at 117.6. "There are going to be some weeks that are shorter than others, and you have to adjust and adapt. One of the nice things about coming from the East Coast to the West Coast is that you do gain those three hours on the way out, so you do get some extra sleep while you're out there. That's one thing that helps us."

Ryan leads an offense that also features wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, tight end Tony Gonzalez and former Chargers running back Michael Turner. Turner will play five days after he was arrested on a DUI charge.

It will be a big test for the Chargers' defense, which got stronger and faster with several offseason additions.

While Rivers has been intercepted once this season, Ryan has yet to be picked off.

"He doesn't throw it to the other team," said San Diego safety Eric Weddle, an All-Pro last season. "I mean, he's playing at a high level. He's extremely smart, crafty; his experience level each year has gotten better. It's going to be a nice challenge for us. We're excited about it. They're a high-powered offense and it'll give us a chance to go make some plays."

Weddle said the checklist is long when playing against an offense with as many talented players as the Falcons have.

"Play aggressive, play tough, tackle well. Communicate. Don't give up any big plays," Weddle said. "Or if they do make a big play, whether it's a great catch or something, be in position and don't let it be that the guy's wide open, or a trick play. Those things will get you down quick, and it's hard to recover when you're playing a good team like this.

"Stuffing the run and making them one-dimensional — we've done that the first two games. The front seven has played unbelievable, so we've got to continue that."

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning found out the hard way how well the Falcons' defense is playing. He was intercepted three times in the first eight minutes Monday night, and the Broncos had turnovers on four on their first five possessions.

The Falcons have yet to commit a turnover while their defense has five interceptions and two fumble recoveries for a plus-7 differential, best in the NFL.

"Turnover ratio is incredibly important in relation to wins and losses in the NFL," Ryan said. "Our defense has done an awesome job the first couple of weeks, specifically the secondary coming up with big plays. It takes everyone to create those turnovers. I think that the pressure from the defensive line has been good, and our guys have been on top of it. Hopefully they can keep it going."

Ryan, who threw the 100th touchdown pass of his career, said the Falcons should have capitalized more. They led 27-7 midway through the third quarter before the Broncos started closing the gap.

"Any time that your defense creates as many turnovers as ours did, you'd like to capitalize with touchdowns," Ryan said. "So it's an area that we need to improve upon and get better at. But at the end of the day we got the job done, and that's really all you need to do in this league."

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is expected to return from a rib injury that kept him out of a 38-10 victory against the Titans last Sunday. Ryan Mathews could make his season debut after being out since breaking his collarbone on his first carry of the exhibition season on Aug. 9.

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