Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest
By ASSOCIATED PRESS  |  Last updated 9/13/13
Sam Bradford was well-protected in the St. Louis Rams' opener by an offensive line that included the newly acquired Jake Long. The Atlanta Falcons may wish they had made a bid for Long as well. Long and the Rams will get a look at a cornerstone of their past in Steven Jackson when they visit the Falcons on Sunday. The Rams hadn't started with a win since 2006, and the delight they took in Sunday's 27-24 comeback victory over Arizona was obvious. "Watching the game clock tick to zero, that's my most favorite part," coach Jeff Fisher said. "You know, we're really excited." They haven't been 2-0 since winning the NFC championship in 2001. The Rams are in position to equal that mark because their pass protection continued to trend upward last week. St. Louis gave up a league-worst 55 sacks in 2011 and 35 last season, then didn't allow any Sunday. "I can't say enough about those guys up front," Bradford said. "They played outstanding, and I think it shows that we've taken leaps and bounds from where we were last year." Long, the No. 1 overall pick by Miami in the 2008 draft, went to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons but allowed a career-high seven sacks last year. On Sunday, he was part of a unit that helped the Rams not allow a sack for the third straight game - the first time they've achieved that feat since 1973. "Not that there's much carry-over from last year, but at least we're off to the right start," said Fisher, who said Bradford was hit just six times Sunday. The Falcons wish they could say the same, as they allowed three sacks amid pressure that played a key role in their 23-17 loss to New Orleans last week. Matt Ryan was forced to throw the ball away on a third-and-goal in the first quarter. He absorbed a 10-yard sack and an intentional grounding penalty to send the Falcons' promising final drive of the half to a premature end. Ryan was hit on six other occasions. "We don't want Matt to be under any pressure," center Peter Konz said. "We don't want anyone touching Matt, much less sacking him." Some of these struggles are likely the result of the state of flux on the Falcons' offensive line. Left tackle Sam Baker and left guard Justin Blalock are the only holdovers from last year's starting unit, while Konz has shifted from guard to center to replace the retired Todd McClure. Lamar Holmes made his first career start at right tackle Sunday, and Garrett Reynolds, with 14 starts since 2009, started at right guard. "I'm absolutely confident we've got right guys," coach Mike Smith said. "The biggest jump you have during the season is always from Week 1 to Week 2. We're playing a lot of younger guys who have not played much. This was a great learning experience for them." They'll get more such experience from a St. Louis team that led the NFC with 52 sacks last year. The Rams looked dangerous again in their opener, with Robert Quinn accounting for three of their four sacks. St. Louis didn't run the ball particularly well in the first game of the post-Steven Jackson era, though, compiling 67 yards on 24 carries. Jackson, who set the franchise record with 10,138 rushing yards over nine seasons, got off to a promising start in Atlanta with 11 rushes for 77 yards and five receptions for 45 yards. He did have a key drop on third-and-goal, however, with the Falcons looking to score a last-second touchdown. On fourth down, Ryan's pass was tipped and intercepted to seal the defeat. For St. Louis, Greg Zuerlein helped ensure the opposite ending with a 38-yard tying field goal and a 48-yard winner in the fourth quarter. "Basically, I stay calm, swing like I know how and the rest takes care of itself," Zuerlein said. "I don't even know the distances when I go out there, to be honest. I just go out there and try to do my job." Jared Cook, in his first game for the Rams after four seasons with Tennessee, overcame an early fumble to record a franchise-record 141 yards at the tight end position. "I told him when we came back to the sideline, I said, 'Hey bro, be ready. It's coming right back to you,'" Bradford said. "It would have been easy for him to get down out there. He showed a ton of maturity and confidence." Atlanta seeks to avoid its first 0-2 start since 2007.
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