The defense did allow passing yards that are pretty much on par with their average. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, compared to Atlanta's average of 266.7 yards and 2.333 passing touchdowns allowed per game. The Falcons were also slightly worse against the run, allowing 111 rushing yards to Tampa Bay, compared to their average of 99.7.
One thing Atlanta's defense did well to establish an advantage over Tampa Bay, however, was bring pressure effectively. Per Pro Football Focus, the Falcons managed four sacks, one hit, and 14 hurries on Mike Glennon. One of those sacks was credited to safety William Moore on our first pivotal play of the game.
On that play, Atlanta had eight guys on the line of scrimmage, so it was looking like an all-out blitz. It's not a bad approach against a rookie, to get in his head early. Jonathan Massaquoi and Osi Umenyiora were on the edges, both safeties were up on the line, Joplo Bartu was lined up against Bucs wide receiver Timothy Wright, and Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux and Paul Worrilow were all lined up in the middle.
After the snap, Bartu drops into coverage against Wright, and the Falcons rush seven at the passer. Bucs tackle Donald Penn has to let William Moore slip by in order to block Osi Umenyiora. Running back Brian Leonard has to decide between blocking Moore or Worrilow, and basically, whichever player he didn't block was going to have a clean shot at Glennon. He blocked Worrilow, and Moore sacked Glennon, stripped the ball, and Thomas DeCoud returned it for a touchdown to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
Sometimes teams make their own luck, and sometimes good things just happen. In the case of our second pivotal play, Michael Koenen gave the Falcons' offense fantastic field position with an uncharacteristically terrible punt. The punt put Atlanta on the Bucs' 37 yard line, and the first play from scrimmage was a 37-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Harry Douglas, which gave the Falcons a 24-7 lead.
The key to this play is that Matt Ryan was calm under pressure, and Harry Douglas is fast. Had the Bucs been able to maintain coverage on Douglas, Ryan had Kevin Cone, Darius Johnson and Tony Gonzalez all relatively open, but Douglas had so much separation that there was no reason to not take a shot at the end zone. It worked.
As has often been the case, the Falcons struggled in the third quarter, and their lead had slipped to 24-17 by early in the fourth quarter. After a Tampa Bay punt, the Falcons took over on their own 20, and Matt Ryan executed a very impressive drive down the field. A 12-yard pass to Darius Johnson, a spectacular 24-yard reception by Drew Davis and a nine-yard pass to Harry Douglas got the Falcons to the Tampa Bay 36 yard line. A two-yard rush by Jason Snelling, a ten-yard catch by Tony Gonzalez, and an unnecessary roughness penalty against Tampa Bay put the Falcons in the red zone.
Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for four yards on first down, putting Atlanta on the Tampa Bay eight yard line. The second down play was a short pass to Jacquizz Rodgers in the middle.
Rodgers is in the backfield, and runs right into traffic to catch this ball. In real time, it was hard to figure out what Ryan was even trying to accomplish, because there was so much traffic. Quizz executes a perfect catch, and because the play was quite unexpected, he has a clear path to the end zone. This touchdown extended Atlanta's lead to 31-17, and secured the win.
What other plays did you see as pivotal in Atlanta's win over the Buccaneers?