ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons’ improving defense left the Buffalo Bills’ offense in a familiar rut.
Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes, including a 42-yarder to Roddy White on Atlanta’s first play from scrimmage, and the Falcons were never challenged in their 31-3 win over Terrell Owens and the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Owens became the sixth player in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions. He reached the milestone with an 8-yard pass from Brian Brohm in the second quarter.
It was a rare highlight for the Bills (5-10), who were held to 178 total yards, including a season-low 40 yards rushing.
“I think for the second straight week I felt like our defense played very solid,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith.
The Falcons, coming off a 10-7 win at the New York Jets, had two interceptions and two sacks as the Bills converted only 2 of 10 third-down plays. They are only 7 of 45 on third-down conversions while losing three of their last four games.
Brohm was 17 of 29 for 146 yards with two interceptions in his NFL debut. The second-year quarterback started when Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards were inactive with ankle injuries.
“I thought our guys fought, but we just didn’t have enough firepower,” said Buffalo interim coach Perry Fewell. “We just didn’t have enough to make the game what we wanted to make it.”
The victory left the Falcons (8-7) in position to post back-to-back winning records for the first time in franchise history. The Falcons, in their 44th season and eliminated from the playoff chase last week, close at Tampa Bay next week.
“When it comes to the playoffs and making the postseason, things didn’t go as well as planned, but we can still finish with a winning season,” said linebacker Mike Peterson. “I’m sure the fans and the organization can be very happy about that.”
The Falcons led 10-0 before adding two third-quarter touchdowns. Ryan completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Marty Booker before defensive end Lawrence Sidbury returned a fumble recovery 11 yards for a 24-0 lead.
Ryan added a 5-yard scoring pass to White in the fourth quarter.
Ryan was 18 of 35 for 250 yards. He is 13-1 as the starter at the Georgia Dome in his two seasons.
Brohm was signed off Green Bay’s practice squad on Nov. 19.
“I thought I handled myself fine,” Brohm said. “Even though the outcome wasn’t good, I was playing with confidence.”
Fewell said Brohm “handled himself OK” for a player who joined the team a month ago.
“He was put in a tough position,” Fewell said. “He tried to answer the challenge. I think he’s got a future with more reps and more work. He has some promise there.”
From the start, Atlanta’s defense pressured Brohm and the Bills. Jonathan Babineaux tackled Fred Jackson for a loss of 2 yards on Buffalo’s first play and then sacked Brohm for a loss of 8 yards on third down, forcing the first of seven punts for the Bills.
Eric Weems returned Brian Moorman’s punt 18 yards to Buffalo’s 42. On first down, White beat cornerback Reggie Corner for a 42-yard touchdown pass.
“I just wanted to go out there and make a play on it and get our team going early,” said White, who had eight catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. “Matt threw a good ball, and I just went up there and got it.”
Corner started for Terrence McGee, who was placed on injured reserve this week with a rotator cuff injury. The Bills also placed DB Jarius Byrd on injured reserve this week, and starting linebacker Bryan Scott was inactive with a head injury.
The Bills’ depleted defense couldn’t follow its plan of protecting Brohm.
“We wanted to put the game on our shoulders, not his,” said linebacker Paul Posluszny. “We didn’t do that. … They jumped on us in a hurry. Obviously, it was a shock, but it was early. We were anticipating getting back into it.”
Atlanta’s defense shut down the Buffalo running game. Jackson had 13 carries for 39 yards.
Atlanta led 24-0 before Rian Lindell kicked a 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter for Buffalo’s only points.
Owens had four catches for 39 yards. He entered the game needing two catches to reach 1,000.
Christopher Owens and Brent Grimes had interceptions for Atlanta.
Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez began the day six catches from 1,000. He left with a right calf injury after making two catches for 17 yards.
The Falcons lost punter Michael Koenen to a head injury in the third quarter and kicker Matt Bryant was limited by a hamstring injury. Defensive end Kroy Biermann had two kickoffs, filling in for Bryant, in the third quarter.
Notes: Ryan filled in for Koenen as the holder on an extra point in the third quarter. Biermann was on the field prepared to attempt the extra point until Bryant joined the huddle and made the kick. … Backup quarterback Chris Redman is also the backup punter. He stretched his kicking leg on the sideline, but wasn’t called on as the Falcons kept the offense on the field for fourth-down plays. … Falcons RB Michael Turner was inactive for the fourth time in six games with an ankle injury. … Bryant’s 51-yard FG is his longest since his 62-yarder, the second longest in NFL history, for Tampa Bay against Philadelphia on Oct. 22, 2006.