CHARLOTTE – The Atlanta Falcons have started well, to say the least.
"We wanted to come out strong," quarterback Matt Ryan said in a conference call Wednesday. "We have done that so far."
The Falcons are one of three teams with a 3-0 record, and they've scored touchdowns on their opening possession in all three of those wins. The Panthers defense, which has allowed touchdowns on each opening drive this season, will look to end both of those streaks Sunday.
"It's something I think every coach talks about. You want to have a fast start, you want to have a fast start to the game, and you want to have a fast start to the season," head coach Mike Smith said in a conference call. "It's a tempo setter in most cases and you want to make a good first impression, and there's no better way to make a good first impression than to have an effective drive the first time you have an opportunity."
The early success can be attributed to Atlanta's defensive effort as well, particularly in the takeaway department.
"We've been able to start fast most games on both sides of the ball," Smith said. "And we've been able to create some turnovers. Our turnover margin is 10, and I think those are probably the two factors that stand out the most in the success we've had in the first three weeks."
Atlanta has played three AFC West opponents (Kansas City, Denver, San Diego) in the first three weeks, making Sunday's matchup with the Panthers its 2012 introduction to the NFC and NFC South.
Carolina, meanwhile, has already played divisional opponents Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
"We're excited for whoever is on the schedule, but the division opponents are always extra difficult games," Ryan said. "They are fun to be a part of. I know that these games (against the Panthers) always come down to the wire. We're going to have to prepare that way but we're definitely excited about getting into the division and back in the NFC."
Like his quarterback, Smith anticipates another tight game between two NFC South rivals.
"There have been some real battles between the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons through their history," Smith said. "Since we've been here going into season five, they are always very hard fought – a play here or a play there."