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Matt Ryan, Julio Jones set records in win over Panthers

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones each established career highs and franchise records, eviscerating the Carolina Panthers' inexperienced secondary in a fireworks display that resulted in a 48-33 Atlanta Falcons victory Sunday. Here's what we learned:

  1. Ryan and Jones became the first quarterback-receiver tandem of the Super Bowl era to combine for at least 500 passing yards and 300 receiving yards, per NFL Network Research. Severely outplaying last year's MVP, Matt Ryan built on his NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors to assume the top spot in the quarter-pole MVP discussion. He continues to exhibit ideal pocket movement and vision, functioning as a high-end point guard to distribute the ball to his newfound collection of weapons. Buoyed by play-caller Kyle Shanahan's hot hand, Ryan directed textbook scoring drives of 71, 75, 92, 98 and 99 yards, dissecting Carolina's defense underneath to set up perfectly placed downfield bombs to Jones, Aldrick Robinson and Austin Hooper.

Leading the league in every major passing category, Ryan has completed 101 of 140 passes (72.1 percent) for 1,473 yards (10.5 YPA), 11:2 TD-to-INT ratio and an astonishing 126.3 passer rating. After dismantling the anemic defenses of Buccaneers, Raiders and Saints in the first three weeks, Ryan feasted on a Panthers unit that ranked sixth in Football Outsiders' metrics entering Sunday's game.

  1. When Julio Jones last faced a Carolina secondary featuring All Pro Josh Norman, the dynamic wideout was the key figure in a major Atlanta upset, hauling in nine passes for 178 yards. With Norman out of the picture, Jones nearly equaled those numbers by halftime, burning not just the overmatched rookie cornerback duo of James Bradberry and Daryl Worley but also third-year pro Bene Benwikere. It's safe to say Jones has recaptured peak form after a calf injury contributed to his one-catch performance in Week 3.
  1. Carolina's defense finally faced a legitimate test after drawing Trevor Siemian's first NFL start, Blaine Gabbert's talent-poor offense and Minnesota's one-dimensional attack in the first three games. The Falcons' finely tuned aerial attack exposed the Panthers' penny-pinching defensive backfield, which received precious little help from a front seven that hasn't put consistent heat on quarterbacks this season. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis sat out of the majority of the second half with a hamstring injury.
  1. The final score is incredibly misleading as it pertains to Cam Newton's offense. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Falcons held decisive edges in total yards (491-141), first downs (23-6) and score (31-10) with the Panthers' lone touchdown coming via an easy pick-six on a screen pass that bounced off of Davis' helmet. The majority of Carolina's offensive production came via the hot hand of Derek Anderson, who came on in relief after Newton entered the concussion protocol at the hands of a big hit on an early fourth-quarter two-point conversion.

After four games, there are troubling signs for an offense that led the NFL in scoring last season. The offensive line is allowing consistent pressure, the ground attack has yet to find a rhythm without Jonathan Stewart and Newton is taking too many hits while backsliding into sloppy lower-body mechanics on his throws. This is not an offense built to play from behind. After jumping out to a 14-0 record in 2015, the Panthers have lost five of their past nine games, including the playoffs.

  1. Credit Shanahan and Falcons executives Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli for successfully revamping a beleaguered offensive line that undermined Ryan's offensive attack in 2013 and 2014. Atlanta's blockers are not just the lightest, but also highly effective in the passing game as well as the running game. Tailor-made for Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, the front line is the only one in the league which features a center as the heaviest player.
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