As the old adage goes, paybacks are hell.
The Atlanta Falcons stormed into Raymond James on only three days rest to avenge their season opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 43-28.
Don’t let the score fool you as the last score for the Bucs was during garbage time and with Jameis Winston on the bench – no not because he was hurt but it just wasn’t worth his effort. Backup Mike Glennon tossed one final score with 57 seconds left to make it somewhat respectable.
To open the season the Bucs came into the Georgia Dome and defeated the Falcons 31-24 as Atlanta looked and played a lot like they did at the end of last season when they lost seven of their last nine games.
And while everyone was on edge after that game and many didn’t see them going anywhere in a division with a defending Super Bowl participant and Tampa Bay an up and comer with a promising offense and a few nice free agent acquisitions, here we are in the same place we we’ve been since the end of September with the Falcons in first place.
A four game winning streak accompanied by the re-emergence of Matt Ryan now the leading candidate for MVP by many pundits find the Falcons with a two game lead in the division and predicted favorite, Carolina three behind.
During the second half of last season many called for the head of Ryan who struggled with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanihan’s schemes. The veteran QB threw a lot more interceptions than in years past including a number of Pick-6’s.
This season has been a whole lot different with what appears to be a compromise between Shanihan’s West Coast offense and the faster pace gun-and-go that Ryan was more comfortable with and excelled.
After an awkward first game, it has been off to the races for the Atlanta offense. Ryan joined the record books twice – once for throwing for over 500 yards in their defining victory to date against Carolina and two weeks ago when he broke the NFL record for games with 200-plus passing yards. Julio Jones joined the record book in the win over the Panthers with 300 receiving yards to place sixth on the league list for receiving yards in a single game and being the only passing and receiving duo with a 500 yard passing and 300 receiving yards in the same game. Thursday night did nothing to discourage voters as Ryan threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns giving him 23 touchdowns against four interceptions for the season.
Jones let his presence known Thursday after being invisible against the Packers Sunday. He bounced back with eight catches for 111 yards and a score. He leads the league in receiving yards with 970. Ryan passed the ball around to seven different receivers as the Falcons kept the Bucs on their toes all night.
The running game rebounded after being held to under 100 yards last week for the first time in over a month as Devonta Freeman led the way 77 yards as well as catching two passes. The Falcons ground game ground out 136 yards while the defense held the Bucs under 100 yards allowing only 73. The defensive front continues to improve as they recorded three more sacks as they’ve outpaced last season’s total only nine games into the season.
The game was a fast paced affair as Tampa Bay drew first blood taking the opening kickoff and driving the length of the field as Winston hit Mike Evans for the first of his three touchdown passes to take a 7-0 lead.
The Falcons immediately returned the favor in under two minutes as Ryan hit Levine Toilolo from 32 yards out to begin a 13-0 run for the Red Birds. Tampa regained the lead temporarily with another Winston to Evans hookup but then the Falcons went on a 27-0 run that for all intents and purposes locked up the game with 9:56 to play.
The rest of the game was junk time as Tampa Bay scored twp late scores but never really posed a threat. And for the second time this season against a divisional foe the Falcons knocked out a starting quarterback on a two-point conversion try thus prompting coach Dirk Koetter to bring Glennon into the game.
With the win the Falcons improve to 6-3 and will retain at least a two game lead after the rest of the week’s action.
Homecoming of sorts: Playing Tampa Bay seems almost like a family affair these days. Former Falcons OC Koetter of course coaches the team; their defensive coordinator is former head coach Mike Smith, cornerback Brent Grimes, and former running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Antoine Smith.
Missed Kick: Matt Bosher did not punt this game. His only game action was kickoffs and there he saw plenty (8).
Streak Broken: With the win the Falcons beat the Bucs three-game winning streak in the series and it was Jameis Winston’s first loss to Atlanta.
The Falcons return to action a week from Sunday when they visit the Philadelphia Eagles. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm and will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Wenthal
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