LOS ANGELES — Matt Ryan had barely sat down to begin his usual post-kickoff, pregame preparations when he had to rush onto the field. A Rams rookie had fumbled the opening return, and the Falcons had the ball at the 3.
"It was a pleasant surprise," said Ryan, who threw a touchdown on the first snap.
The whole day was a series of fun surprises for Atlanta, whose playoff chase is picking up steam.
Ryan passed for 237 yards and three touchdowns, and the Falcons forced five turnovers in a 42-14 victory over the spiraling Rams on Sunday.
Deion Jones returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown and Vic Beasley forced a fumble by Jared Goff and returned it for another touchdown during Atlanta's comprehensive pummeling of the Rams, who have lost four straight and eight of nine.
Tevin Coleman caught a pass and rushed for a score for the Falcons, who opened up a 42-point lead in the third quarter and stayed atop the NFC South alongside the Bucs with their fourth win in six games. Atlanta currently holds the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay.
"This is the kind of game where it shows you that all the hard work you've been putting in is paying off," said Beasley, whose three-sack performance was punctuated by that strip-sack and score. "It's definitely a great feeling, especially for a defense that's been giving up a lot of points. To go out there and dominate them just shows what we can be as a defense."
Even without injured receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta had little trouble from the opening kickoff, which was fumbled by Rams rookie Michael Thomas. Justin Hardy immediately caught a touchdown, and the day never got better for the Rams.