After a rough 1-4 start to the season, the Falcons were looking to bounce back in the final game of their three-game home stand, and their first game after the bye week, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Similar to the Falcons, Tampa Bay's season was off to a terrible start. The Buccaneers entered the contest with an 0-5 record, and the bad start only added more fuel to the fire of a frustrating season in which former starter Josh Freeman was released in favor of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. There has also been a lot of internal drama within the Bucs organization. Also, their second year head coach Greg Schiano's tenure in Tampa Bay is a huge question mark, and a win against Atlanta would help bring something positive to a dramatic 2013 season.
As for the Falcons, they were looking to continue their success after a bye week. Since 2008, Atlanta is 4-1 after a bye and maintains a four game post-bye winning streak as well. Sunday was going to be a intriguing challenge after the Falcons learned that wide receiver Julio Jones was out for the season and veteran receiver Roddy White would not be on the field due to injury for the first time in his NFL career. Matt Ryan prepared to take on a Tampa Bay defense that isn't bad at all.
Entering Sunday, Tampa was ranked 15th in the league for yards allowed, with an average of 350.8 per game. Their pass defense had allowed 247.8 yards per game, plus just eight passing touchdowns in 2013. The Bucs' run defense is 5th in the NFL, allowing just 83.8 yards per game and one rushing touchdown before Sunday's game. The Bucs had 14 sacks on the season, as well as six interceptions and six forced fumbles. The Bucs defense had allowed just 20.8 points per game before taking on the Falcons.
The biggest issue for Tampa Bay had been their inability to score, as the Bucs were averaging 12.8 points per game, which ranked 31st in the league. If Tampa was going to win, they would need a lift from their star running back, Doug Martin. However, it would be a tough task because Atlanta entered the game with the sixth-ranked run defense in the league, allowing just 97.4 yards per game and two rushing touchdowns all season. It was setting up in Atlanta's favor, and the Falcons went and executed the task on Sunday.
Atlanta won the toss and received. On the Falcons' first possession, they would immediately have a three and out drive and punted to the Buccaneers. However, Atlanta's defense would capitalize on a 3rd and 10 pass attempt by Mike Glennon, William Moore would sack him and force Glennon to fumble. Safety Thomas Decoud recovered and returned the fumble for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead with 11:54 remaining in the quarter. After the Falcons touchdown, both Atlanta and Tampa Bay traded possessions in which neither scored. Toward the end of the first quarter, the Falcons were driving into Tampa Bay's territory as the Falcons led 7-0.
The Falcons would eventually capitalize on an eight-play, 82-yard drive which took 4:38 as Matt Ryan connected on a 19-yard pass to Jacquizz Rodgers for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 14-0 lead with 13:23 remaining in the quarter. Tampa Bay would respond on their following drive as they would execute a three-play, 80-yard drive as Mike Glennon completed a 59-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson to trim the Falcons lead to 14-7.
Atlanta would again respond with a ten-play, 36-yard drive. A 54-yard pass interference penalty on Tampa Bay earlier in the drive placed the Falcons in position for a Matt Bryant 23-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 17-7 lead. After the Buccaneers went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Atlanta capitalized on the first play as Matt Ryan connected with Harry Douglas on a 37-yard touchdown pass giving the Falcons a commanding 24-7 lead with 5:32 remaining in the quarter. Tampa Bay ended the quarter by capitalizing on a 13 play, 59-yard drive which set Ryan Lindell in position to kick a 36-yard field goal and trimmed Atlanta's lead to 24-10 at the half.
Tampa Bay opened the quarter with the football and their first possession would end in a three-and-out; however, the Bucs caught a break as rookie punt returner Robert Alford fumbled during a return and Tampa recovered at Atlanta's 23 yard line. Following the fumble, the Bucs would capitalize on a seven-play, 23-yard drive as Mike Glennon connected with Vincent Jackson on a one yard touchdown as the Bucs trimmed Atlanta's lead to 24-17 with 9:03 left in the quarter. After the Falcons and Bucs both traded possessions whether neither scored any points, the Falcons were putting together a good drive as the quarter ended, and the Falcons led 24-17 heading into the final quarter.
Atlanta would capitalize on a 8-play, 70-yard drive in 3:48 as Matt Ryan connected with Jacquizz Rodgers for a second time on an eight-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 31-17 lead with 14:06 remaining in the game. On Tampa Bay's following possession, after two fourth down conversions, and a lot of penalties, one of which negated a touchdown pass, the Bucs settled at the end of an overwhelming 18-play, 60-yard drive which took 9:06, as Ryan Lindell nailed a 41-yard field goal to trim the Falcons' lead to 31-20.
After the Falcons went three-and-out on their next possession, Tampa Bay led another seven-play, 43-yard drive to trim the lead down to 31-23 with 1:55 remaining. After an onside kick attempt by Tampa Bay that was recovered by the Falcons, Matt Ryan kneeled and the game ended as the Falcons would earn a much-needed win. Atlanta extended their winning streak of games after the bye week to five consecutive games.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: HARRY DOUGLAS
Harry Douglas had a tremendous game on Sunday afternoon posting a career high seven receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. His 37-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was Douglas' first of the season, and second consecutive in games against Tampa Bay at the Georgia Dome. With the injuries to Roddy White and Julio Jones, Matt Ryan needed the sixth year receiver to step up.
Douglas has received a lot of criticism from fans and experts throughout his career, but Sunday's game displayed the potential that he can bring to a banged-up Falcons offense. Expect to see the Falcons get Douglas more involved as Roddy White will be trying to get healthy over the next few weeks.
Positives from Falcons/Bucs:
1. Matt Ryan:
Matt Ryan played one of the most efficient games of his career as he completed 20 of his 26 passes for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns against a solid Tampa Bay defense. Ryan also finished with a career high in passing rating of 148.4. Many people thought Ryan would struggle since Roddy White was inactive, and it was the complete opposite. Ryan distributed the football to five different receivers, with running back Jacquizz Rodgers leading with 8 receptions.
Of course, some will state "It was against Tampa Bay," however, Ryan is clearly establishing chemistry among his receiving corps. Until Steven Jackson and Roddy White return, that's going to be key for the Falcons going forward.
2. Pass Blocking:
The Falcons offensive line have been through many ups and downs throughout the season, however, the line was efficient and didn't surrender one sack vs Tampa Bay. Only one hit and five hurries were allowed during the game and that's a plus for Atlanta. Lamar Holmes continues to impress and improve each week at left tackle, with the injury to Sam Baker keeping him on the sidelines.
There has been an improvement each week for Atlanta's line, and ,surprisingly, they have surrendered the least amount of sacks in the NFL with 9. A part of it is due to Ryan's ability to get the ball out at a quick and efficient rate, however, it's a step ahead for the offensive line.
3. Jacquizz Rodgers:
Jacquizz Rodgers is receiving a lot of playing time due to the injury to Steven Jackson back in Week 2. Although he's been through many ups and downs as well, he was a key factor in Atlanta's win. Rodgers posted eight receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns. He's been a efficient running back in the passing game and that's what offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter loves about Rodgers.
With the return of Steven Jackson in the next few weeks, you'll probably see Rodgers become more of a receiving back, so the complete load is not on the third year running back. He's not a power running back and struggles to run behind Atlanta offensive line, but he's a better receiving option than any other back on the team right now.
Things to Improve from Falcons Win:
1. Run Blocking:
The run blocking in general needs to improve, whether it's the play-call or the personnel blocking for the Falcons in these situations. On Sunday, the Falcons had 18 rushing attempts for only 18 yards, which is an average of only one yard per carry. That's a big issue for the team. Currently, the Falcons are ranked 23rd in rushing yards per attempt at 3.6 but there are many cases where the line can't establish a push in the game.
Atlanta's biggest struggles along the offensive line are coming from the middle, where Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz are struggling to give the Falcons enough time to develop a running play. Currently, the Falcons have the fifth-most negative carries up the middle and that's an issue that must be resolved. Also, Dirk Koetter must draw up better formations to compliment the style of each running back.
For example, Jacquizz Rodgers needs a fullback to help open the lanes for him to become effective, and in a shotgun formation, it's nearly impossible to develop solid rushing plays. Atlanta must work on that in order to have a solid rushing attack, which could improve once Steven Jackson returns.
The Falcons, who have been known as one of the teams that avoid a lot of unnecessary penalties, didn't do well on Sunday as the team had nine penalties. A few crucial ones extended a Tampa Bay drive in the second half. Atlanta must fix this issue immediately because that can seriously affect the flow of any NFL game.
Penalties have been one of the issues the Falcons have avoided well over the past few seasons. Some discipline must be imparted from the coaching staff, because if any team is committing over five penalties per game, they are putting their team in a great position to lose.
3. Second Half Football:
Atlanta must play with a sense of urgency and continue to play smart football throughout the game. The Falcons must adjust and keep bringing the intensity that's placed them in the lead during the first half, because Atlanta tends to struggle after half-time.
One of the Falcons' biggest concerns is continuing to struggle in the third quarter, which has been consistent over the last few years. Atlanta can't allow teams to come within a few points of the lead or even take the lead from the Falcons. The team must continue to keep their strategy consistent throughout all 60 minutes of the football game.
This team has a tendency to go into a conservative approach after establishing leads, and in the NFL, you can't continue to do that. If the Falcons get a huge advantage early, it's imperative that the lead is maintained. Atlanta must make the necessary adjustments in order to prevent teams from coming back and making the game within reach. The coaching staff must address this problem immediately.
Although there are adjustments that must be made in the next few days, a win is a win! Atlanta's win placed their record at 2-4, and the Falcons will now embark on a two-game road trip to Arizona facing the Cardinals, and then to Charlotte to take on the NFC South rival Panthers. The Falcons could turn this ship around from a bad start; we'll take the win and look to build momentum as we hit the mid-season mark. Until next time, FALCONS RISE UP!