Stats don’t always tell the whole story but play-makers do. Simply put, the Falcons made more clutch plays than the Bears and left Soldier Field with a 23-17 win on opening day.

Head-to-head Chicago’s Mike Glennon completed 10 more passes than Matt Ryan. It sounds good but Ryan was more efficient completing 21 of 30 for 321 yards. Ryan outdistanced Glennon by an entire football field.

Atlanta’s offense gave up two sacks but the defense sacked Glennon four times including one on fourth down in the final seconds to end a potentially game-winning scoring drive. On that drive, Joshua Bellamy, Jordan Howard, and Zach Miller each dropped passes that could have potentially won the game for the Bears.

The story of the fourth quarter had to be Austin Hooper and the plays he made, on the scoring play and then extending the drive,” said head coach Dan Quinn. Hooper scored once and set up a crucial field goal.

With their backs against the goal line, Ryan slipped a Chicago defender and delivered a strike down the middle of the field to Austin Hooper at the 48. The second-year tight end picked up the first down and a helmet. He delivered a Walter Payton-esque stiff arm to Quintin Demps knocking the Bears safety to the ground and rambled the remaining 28 yards for a touchdown. “Luckily I was able to see Hoop there make a nice run after the catch, a little stiff arm and throw the guy off of him,” said Ryan. “So, it was a great play by Austin and certainly was timely for us.” 

On the next offensive series following a 19-yard touchdown reception by Tarik Cohen, Hooper turned a 5-yard pass on third and 10 into a 40 yard first down. While the Falcons were unable to grind out a touchdown, Matt Bryant’s leg made it a six-point difference. The added differential meant the Bears had to score a touchdown to win with a little more than 3 minutes remaining on the clock.

Ryan’s touchdown pass to Hooper was his second big play of the game. In the second quarter and facing second and 13, Ryan used his legs to pick up a first down at the Bears 5-yard line. DeVonta Freeman took it the rest of the way for a 10-3 lead.

It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. Chicago’s offense ran the ball relatively well gaining 125 yards against the Falcons revamped front seven. The defense, however, shut the door allowing only 26 rushing yards in the second half.

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All photos by Kevin C. Cox, CORE360 Sports