Matt Ryan saw three blue jerseys surrounding Julio Jones and confidently launched the ball anyway.
Jones made Ryan’s faith pay off with a diving 50-yard touchdown catch so spectacular it was ruled incomplete at first. Atlanta coach Mike Smith challenged, the call was reversed on replay, and the Falcons were on their way to a 31-7 rout of the winless Indianapolis Colts.
Ryan knew the rookie receiver could make the play because he has watched him make similar catches in practice.
”The one on the first deep ball, he made an unbelievable catch,” Ryan said Sunday. ”That’s what you’ve got to do with guys like that, you’ve got to give them a chance to catch the football. He made me look pretty good on that one.”
Jones appreciated Ryan’s confidence in him.
”I had to make a play on it,” he said. ”My teammates count on me to make very explosive plays.”
Jones wasn’t done yet. He also had an 80-yard touchdown and set up a late field goal with a 19-yard run.
”On the second touchdown, he showed off his athleticism,” Ryan said. ”We knew he was capable of doing those types of things. We had seen that in practice, seen that in training camp. For him to go out there and do it today in the game was big.”
After missing two games with a strained left hamstring, Jones finished with three catches for a season-high 131 yards. He added two carries for 33 yards to give Atlanta (5-3) its third straight victory overall and first road win in a series that dates to 1966.
Ryan was 14 of 24 for 275 yards with three scores and one interception, and Michael Turner ran 19 times for 71 yards and a score.
Atlanta’s defense didn’t allow a point. Indy’s only score came on an interception return by Jerraud Powers. The Falcons held the Colts to 186 total yards.
Smith said the defense has had its ups and downs, but it came together on Sunday.
”We’re starting to jell,” Smith said. ”I like the way our guys are running. We’re a team that has a defense that has some speed.”
The Colts entered Atlanta territory on only two possessions the entire game, and one of those series ended when ex-Colt Kelvin Hayden intercepted a pass by Curtis Painter.
Donald Brown led the Colts with 16 carries for 70 yards. Painter was 13 of 27 for 98 yards with one interception.
Miami’s win at Kansas City left the Colts (0-9) as the only team in the NFL without a victory. They have lost five straight home games for the first time since 2001, and this defeat was every bit as lopsided as the score made it appear.
”I haven’t had nightmares like that in a long time,” coach Jim Caldwell said when asked if he ever dreamed the Colts could go 0-9. ”It’s not something that you anticipate is going to happen.
”We just aren’t performing well right now,” he added.
Minus injured quarterback Peyton Manning all season, Indianapolis is in danger of falling to 0-10 for the first time since 1997, before the Manning era began.
The Colts gave up 14 points off two turnovers Sunday and went nearly 30 minutes without a first down. Their top two tight ends, Dallas Clark (lower leg) and Brody Eldridge (hand), didn’t finish the game.
Running back Delone Carter fumbled on the game’s second play. Five plays after that, Turner plunged in from 1 yard out to make it 7-0.
Two series later, Jones made a remarkable adjustment between three defenders to haul in Ryan’s lob pass at the goal line. That made it 14-0 late in the first quarter.
”I like the fast start, with the turnovers that we were able to create, and then the offense was able to put it in the end zone,” Smith said. ”It was the way we wanted to start.”
Ryan threw a 1-yard TD pass to Tony Gonzalez late in the third quarter, and Jones’ long run set up Matt Bryant for a 20-yard field goal early in the fourth to close out the scoring.
”That was a good win for our football team,” Ryan said. ”I thought all three phases played well today. We did it for 60 minutes. That’s something that we’ve been trying to do throughout the year.”
Notes: Atlanta is 2-13 against the Colts. … The Colts had a video tribute for Hayden between the first and second quarters. Hayden scored a TD on the game-sealing interception in the Colts’ Super Bowl win over Chicago. He was cut before training camp opened. … Falcons cornerback William Moore left briefly in the first half with a thigh injury.