DENVER — Instead of 300 yards receiving from Julio Jones, the Atlanta Falcons got 3 1/2 sacks from Vic Beasley Jr.
Maybe this defense really can play.
Already an offensive juggernaut, the Falcons turned up the defensive pressure and made life miserable for rookie Paxton Lynch in a 23-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Beasley led the punishment of Lynch, who was making his first start as he filled in for a banged-up Trevor Siemian . Lynch was sacked six times and looked every bit like the rookie he is for the Broncos (4-1).
It may be the start of something good for a maligned Falcons defense.
“This is like a machine and you have to have all the parts of the engine working together,” defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “When you have that, you can have the success like we’re having.”
The road won’t get any easier for the Falcons (4-1) as they stay out west to go against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks next weekend.
For Denver, it’s quickly back to the drawing board in a short week. The team travels to San Diego on Thursday. Siemian and his sprained left shoulder could be back in time for that game.
“We didn’t want to expose (Siemian) today,” explained Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who was taken to the hospital following the game as a precaution with flu-like symptoms. “They came into our place, played with a lot of poise and made a lot of big plays.”
But none of them came from Jones. He had 300 yards receiving in a win over Carolina last weekend, but was held to two catches for 29 yards.
“They took me away and they were like, ‘All right, you’re not going to beat us today,'” Jones said. “Everybody else is going to step up. We’ve got a lot of weapons.”
Like tailback Tevin Coleman, who had four catches for 132 yards and a TD. Or Devonta Freeman, whose 1-yard TD on fourth down during the opening drive set the tone for the rest of the game. Matt Ryan later converted a fourth-and-1 with a QB sneak that set up a field goal before halftime.
“That’s our mindset, to attack offensively,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We just wanted to keep attacking.”
A few takeaways from the game:
BRONCOS QBs: Lynch struggled in his first NFL start, and the Broncos only have three days to get Siemian healthy.
Siemian sat out with a sore left shoulder, though Kubiak said he had been “very close” to being able to play against Atlanta. Instead, Lynch went 23 for 35 for 223 yards and took six sacks. It was a near opposite of his relief appearance last week against the Bucs , when he threw for 170 yards and a score to help the Broncos pull away from Tampa Bay.
“If my number gets called again, I’m going to make sure I’m ready to go out there and play,” Lynch said. “But if my number isn’t called, I’ll make sure I’m ready to play if I have to go in the game.”
BY AIR OR LAND: Jones took a backseat to Atlanta’s tandem of tailbacks. Freeman rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and caught three passes for 35 yards. Coleman caught four passes for 132 yards and a touchdown and added 31 yards on six carries.
“I thought the running backs really stole the show today, being a factor both in the run game and the pass game,” Quinn said.
FAST START, THEN WHAT?: The good start is nothing new for the Falcons. But now what?
Atlanta won its first five games last season, but only won three games the rest of the way. This year, the Falcons are 4-1 through five games and Quinn is convinced the season won’t play out like 2015.
“We are mentally tougher than what we were,” Quinn said.
RESHUFFLED LINE: With right tackle Ty Sambrailo struggling to keep Beasley contained, the Broncos juggled around their line. They shifted Michael Schofield from guard to tackle and inserted Darrion Weems at guard. Sambrailo watched from the bench.
NEAR PICKS: Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. both had interceptions in their hands, but couldn’t hang on.
“Those are plays we expect to make all the time,” Harris said. “We just didn’t make them today.”
AP National Writer Eddie Pells and AP Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.