KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tony Gonzalez boarded the first bus to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, eager to arrive as early as possible to start what's likely his final season in the place where it all began.
The Falcons made sure it was a happy return.
Matt Ryan threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, one of them to the longtime Chiefs tight end late in the third quarter, and Atlanta pulled away with a dynamic second-half scoring outburst for a 40-24 season-opening victory over Kansas City.
"It's been like a homecoming for me," Gonzalez said. "I just want all the fans to know, 'I love you very much and thank you for letting this day be special.'"
They didn't have much choice.
Ryan also ran for a TD, and Julio Jones caught six passes for 108 yards and two scores, both of them enjoying a Chiefs defense missing four starters due to injuries and suspension.
The highlight, though, was Gonzalez, the five-time All-Pro who spent his first 12 seasons in Kansas City. After making his TD grab, the ball squirted loose in the end zone. Ryan tracked it down and pushed it into Gonzalez's hands, and as he'd done so many times, the former college hoops player dunked the ball over the goalpost — getting mostly boos from a crowd that once cheered him.
"He's such a great part of this organization, you know, probably the greatest tight end to ever play the game," Ryan said. "I think deep down in their hearts, Kansas City fans were happy to see that one more time.
"Maybe not at the time," Ryan quickly added. "Maybe in retrospect."
The Chiefs matched Atlanta most of the first half, trailing 20-17 at the break, but a missed field goal by Ryan Succop early in the third quarter proved to be the turning point.
Atlanta scored 20 unanswered points to put the game away.
Matt Cassel threw for 258 yards and had touchdowns running and throwing, but he also fumbled deep in Kansas City territory to set up a short TD drive, and his two interceptions created short fields that the Falcons turned into field goals by Matt Bryant.
"It's only one game in a long season," Cassel said. "We obviously have to make a lot of corrections and get better as a football team. We've got to play collectively."
There was no controversy surrounding the replacement officials. Both times that referee Mike Shepherd went under the hood for a video review, the original call stood.
Jamaal Charles had 87 yards rushing, and Tony Moeaki had three catches for 37 yards, both providing a bright spot for Kansas City. The pair of them, along with safety Eric Berry, played their first regular-season games since tearing their left ACLs last season.
There were still plenty of injury woes to go along with the suspension of Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali, who missed the game after violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
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