CHICAGO — All Matt Ryan was trying to do was make something out of a broken play when he saw tight end Austin Hooper wide open near midfield.
He wound up throwing a huge touchdown pass to help Atlanta squeeze out a season-opening victory.
Ryan connected with Hooper on an 88-yard TD and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, and the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons held on to beat the Chicago Bears 23-17 on Sunday.
The butt of jokes following their epic Super Bowl collapse against New England, the Falcons survived as the Bears missed several chances to score a touchdown in the final seconds.
"Can we play better? Absolutely," Ryan said. "Are we gonna try to work on that? For sure. But we'll take a win any day."
The Bears had a first down at the Atlanta 5 in the closing minute. Mike Glennon's pass to a lunging Josh Bellamy on first down hit off the receiver's hands, and Jordan Howard then dropped a simple catch at the 1.
After another incompletion on third down, Glennon got sacked by Brooks Reed to end the drive.
"It burns," Bears tight end Zach Miller said. "It burns inside because it's close. We had ample opportunity."
Atlanta was clinging to a 13-10 lead early in the fourth when a scrambling Ryan fired to a wide-open Hooper near midfield. The second-year tight end from Stanford raced up the right side and stiff-armed Quintin Demps on the way to the end zone to make it a 10-point game.
The Bears then went 75 yards, with Glennon hitting rookie Tarik Cohen for a 19-yard TD midway through the fourth to cut it to 20-17. Earlier Cohen had a 46-yard run on a toss that he turned back the opposite direction.
Atlanta's Matt Bryant answered with a 37-yard field goal, making it 23-17 with 3:24 left.
Hooper, a second-year player from Stanford, felt like he "lived a lifetime" as the ball approached him.
"I think I blacked out for a part of it. Then I caught it and I felt like it was almost auto-pilot."
Ryan was nervous, too.
"When people are covered, your brain just goes off and you throw it and you cut it loose," he said. "Sometimes when you're open, it can be the most difficult."
For the Bears, it was an all-too-familiar result after going 3-13 and finishing last in the NFC North.
"Unfortunately, we came up a little bit short," Bears coach John Fox said. "To be a good football team is how you respond to moments like this and games like this. This will be critical. I think we'll respond just fine."
Coming off an MVP season, Ryan was 21 of 30 for 321 yards and a touchdown.
Hooper had two catches for 128 yards. Julio Jones added four receptions for 66 yards receiving and Bryant kicked three field goals.
Glennon shaky: In his Bears debut, Glennon didn't silence fans who would rather see No. 2 overall draft pick Mitchell Trubisky. He was 26 of 40 for 213 yards and a TD.
Glennon, however, focused on the positive.
"I don't want to say moral victory at all, because ultimately we need to win the game," Glennon said. "But when you look at the positives and negatives, there is a positive in that we were close to beating a team of that caliber."
Cohen absorbed several big hits in an impressive debut, finishing with 66 yards rushing and 47 receiving. He reversed field on a 46-yard run, helping set up Howard's 4-yard touchdown near the end of the half.
Cohen also had praise for his quarterback: "He showed a lot of resiliency. People are going to count him out and the crowd was booing a little bit. He just fought in that adversity and showed up. He's a playmaker. He's a baller. So that's what we expect him to do and he led his team."
White hurt again: Bears receiver Kevin White found himself in a familiar position, walking off the field with an injury. He had two catches for 6 yards before hurting his shoulder. White was limited to four games in his first two seasons after being drafted seventh overall in 2015.