KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Before the game, tight end Tony Gonzalez heard cheers. During the game when he got into the end zone as part of Atlanta's 40-24 victory over the Chiefs, he heard boos.
"I wouldn't have expected anything different," Gonzalez said of what happened after his seven-yard touchdown grab ended with his trademark dunk over the crossbar. "These fans here are so passionate and they love their team and I enjoyed that for a long time."
Gonzalez spent 12 seasons with the Chiefs and became the franchise's leading career receiver before he was traded to the Falcons in 2009. This was his first visit back to the place where he said "he grew up." He wasn't going to dunk the ball after his score, but quarterback Matt Ryan demanded it.
"It's a great moment for him personally but for Kansas City fans too," said Ryan. "I think deep down in their hearts Kansas City fans probably loved seeing that one more time."
The Falcons scored on their first eight possessions and ripped off 23 unanswered points that wrapped up their victory.
"We wanted to start fast and we wanted to score touchdowns and we had to take a couple field goals," said Ryan. "All in all points are good in this league no matter how you get them. I think it was a pretty good start."
Ryan passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair to wide receiver Julio Jones and the scoring toss to Gonzalez. Jones finished with six catches for 108 yards. Ryan also scored with a five-yard run and the rest of the points came from four Matt Bryant field goals.
Atlanta took advantage of a depleted Kansas City defense that opened the game without four starters including their best pass rusher in outside linebacker Tamba Hali (NFL suspension) and best cover man in the secondary in cornerback Brandon Flowers (inured foot). Flowers replacement Jacques Reeves was beaten twice for touchdowns and the Chiefs were able to sack Ryan just once.
"You can write whatever story you want about why it happened, but the fact is we didn't play well enough to win," said Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt. "They made the plays and we couldn't get them off the field."
The Falcons took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards on 12 plays, converting three third-down plays along the way. The key receiver was Jones; he had a 25-yard catch and run, an 11-yard play that produced a first down and then an 8-yard touchdown play.
The Chiefs were able to put a field goal on the board with their first possession, but gave it right back when they allowed kick returner Jacquizz Rodgers a 77-yard return to the Chiefs 24-yard line. Atlanta picked up a 34-yard FG from Matt Bryant and held a 10-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Quarterback Matt Cassel led the Chiefs offense to its first touchdown of the season on a nine-play, 76-yard drive. Cassel's throw of 22 yards to tight end Kevin Boss was just out of reach of the two Falcons in coverage.
Ryan and Jones hooked up again on a 14-yard TD pass but the Chiefs then went 80 yards on eight plays as Cassel scored on a five-yard run and it was 17-17.
The Falcons retook the lead thanks to a 21-yard field goal by Bryant and Atlanta went to halftime up 20-17.
"When we came in at half-time we felt pretty good about what we were doing and where we were going," said Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson. "It was still a game."
The air went out of the Chiefs' comeback bid early in the third quarter when kicker Ryan Succop missed a 40-yard field goal, hitting the right upright. Atlanta responded with Ryan's touchdown run and when a John Abraham sack forced a Cassel fumble that led to the TD pass to Gonzalez. Bryant added two field goals for 23 straight Falcons points before the Chiefs scored with five seconds to play on a 4-yard run by running back Shaun Draughn.
Notes: Gonzalez finished with five catches for 53 yards. ... Atlanta LB Stephen Nicholas had a big day with 12 total tackles, an interception and a recovered fumble. ... Cassel's TD run in the second quarter was his first scoring run in four seasons with the Chiefs. ... Atlanta's defense forced three turnovers by Cassel, with two interceptions and a fumble. ... Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is now 0-5 in the opening game, after going 0-4 in Cleveland. ... Falcons head coach Mike Smith is now 3-2 on opening day.