By D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution –
SAN DIEGO — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan turned in one of the greatest days of his five-year NFL career against the Chargers in a battle of unbeaten teams on Sunday.
With Ryan operating at near peak performance and the defense confounding San Diego’s offense, the Falcons defeated the Chargers 27-3 to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2004 before 61,297 fans.
The Falcons used their passing attack to build a lead and then turned the game over to running back Michael Turner, who had a tumultuous week that included being arrested for driving under the influence, to close out the game.
Through three quarters, Ryan was near flawless as he completed 30 of 40 passes for 275 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Ryan and the offense opened the game with a solid touchdown drive.
With Ryan passing on 8 of 10 plays, the Falcons marched down the field before he tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Matt Bosher scooped up an errant Josh Harris snap, but was tackled while trying to run for the extra point.
With the Falcons up 6-0, the game stalled until early in the second quarter.
The Chargers were on the move and drove inside the Falcons’ 10 yard line when Thomas DeCoud held up San Diego running back Ryan Mathews and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon whacked him from the back to force a fumble.
DeCoud recovered Mathews’ 11th fumble in 27 career NFL games.
The Falcons promptly drove 96 yards in 17 plays before Ryan tossed a laser shot to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who hauled it in for a 7-yard touchdown. It was the 98th career touchdown for Gonzalez.
The drive was thing of football beauty, especially considering that the Falcons did it without rushing the ball effectively. During the drive, their longest of the season, the offense converted on five third downs to keep the chains moving.
With the Chargers on the ropes, quarterback Philip Rivers tossed an ill-advised pass out to tight end Antonio Gates and DeCoud made a spectacular interception along the sideline at San Diego’s 29 with 1:53 left in the second quarter.
The Falcons struck quickly, with Ryan tossing a 9-yard touchdown pass on a fade route to Julio Jones on the fourth play of the drive. Rodgers picked up a blitzer to allow Ryan time to get off the touchdown pass that made it 20-0.
San Diego received a 41-yard field goal from Nate Kaeding on their first drive of the second half.
Turner, who was arrested on Tuesday while driving home from a popular Atlanta strip club, finally got rolling. He had a couple of big runs as the Falcons protected their lead. Turner scored on a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
In wins over Kansas City and Denver, Turner had rushed for 74 yards on 28 carries. He finished with 80 yards on 14 carries against the Chargers.
The Falcons learned one of their lessons from the Monday night win over Denver over the Broncos, when the Falcons converted three early interceptions into just 13 points and had to hold on for a 27-21 victory.
When they picked up two second-quarter turnovers against the Chargers, they promptly turned them into two touchdowns to help build a 20-0 halftime lead.
About the only thing Ryan did wrong was throw a third-quarter interception. He had gone a franchise-record 272 pass attempts without throwing an interception.
The Falcons will attempt to improve to 4-0 when they face the well-rested Carolina Panthers (1-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.