ATLANTA — Matt Ryan had more rushing touchdowns than Cam Newton. Even more important, the Atlanta quarterback got a whole lot of players involved in the offense.
Just like that, the Falcons resembled the high-scoring team that made it all the way to the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
Ryan ran for a pair of scores for the first time in his career and threw a pair of TD passes, leading the Falcons to a 31-24 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Cam Newton was rocked early on by cheap shot from Damontae Kazee, who was thrown out of the game for the helmet-to-helmet hit while the Panthers quarterback was sliding at the end of the run. Newton was able to stay in the game, throwing a pair of touchdown passes, and he had one last chance to send the game to overtime.
From the Falcons 31, Newton lofted a pass into the end zone for D.J. Moore, who was double-covered and let the ball slip through his hands as time expired.
While Newton rushed for 42 yards, it was Ryan who had the most significant impact with his legs.
After scoring on a 1-yard sneak that pushed Atlanta (1-1) to a 24-10 lead early in the third quarter, Ryan delivered the biggest blow with a brilliant scamper midway through the fourth quarter. On third-and-5 from the Carolina 8, he looked around futilely for an open receiver, spotted a running lane to the left and took off for the end zone.
There were three Carolina players waiting for him at the goal line — including 346-pound former teammate Dontari Poe — but Ryan leaped in the air and bowled them all over, falling across the goal line for the TD that gave Atlanta a two-touchdown lead over the Panthers (1-1).
Ryan finished 23 of 28 passing for 272 yards, a performance that took some of the heat off offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Roundly panned for his play-calling last season and in a season-opening loss to Philadelphia, he got a bunch of people involved in the game plan. Eight players caught passes, and six ran the ball.
That was more like the team that set a franchise scoring record in 2016 with Kyle Shanahan as the coordinator. He left after that season to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
The most telling possession for Atlanta came with the first half winding down. Ryan completed six straight passes to five receivers — none of them, amazingly enough, Julio Jones.
Tight end Austin Hooper had two catches for 15 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown with 22 seconds remaining that gave the Falcons a 17-10 halftime lead.
Backup receiver Marvin Hall had a 30-yard reception, while rookie Calvin Ridley hauled in a 22-yarder. The running backs also got into the passing game, with rookie Ito Smith making an 8-yard grab and Tevin Coleman pulling down a 6-yard reception.
The Panthers were livid about Kazee's hit on Newton, who was sliding to the turf at the end of a 10-yard run. Kazee came at him helmet-first, snapping back Newton's head with the vicious hit that got the Atlanta safety kicked out of the game.
Carolina receiver Torrey Smith raced in to deliver a hit that sent Kazee to the turf, also drawing a personal foul penalty but not an ejection.
While officials sorted out the penalties, Newton was quickly examined and returned to the field without missing a play.
The Panthers return home to host the Cincinnati Bengals.