Well, that was fun. It's not too often that you see a fifty-burger dropped in the NFL, and it's not something we've traditionally seen out of our Falcons, but tonight - against a woefully bad Bucs team - the birds unleashed a torrent of pain that had them up 56-0 in the THIRD QUARTER.
Here's the thing, though - it gets hard to tell how much of the game was our team being that good or their team being that bad. You don't want to over-react, but this kind of domination demands attention. With that said, here are the three key takeaways I saw in this game.
1. Matt Ryan is nearly unstoppable - when he has a pocket.
We all talked about it during the off-season, but through three games, I'm not sure any of us could have predicted the kind of start that Ryan has had. Tonight, with time to operate in the pocket and without his #2 WR Roddy White on the field, Ryan orchestrated a surgical tear-apart of the Bucs defense that was comical in it's lopsidedness. He was 21 for 24 (87.5%!!!) for 286 yards and 3TD with no INTs. He failed to complete only 3 passes.
It was clear against Cincinnati that Ryan didn't have the kind of pocket that he needs to be successful. But against the Saints and the Bucs, he was given time and he put on MVP performances in both - completing over 70%, for over 700 yards and 6TDs and 0 INTs. That's ridiculous.
The Falcons will have a big test next week as they go back on the road and face an improved Vikings team. But if they can protect Ryan consistently, there's no reason to believe he can't continue to look like the elite QB many of us believe him to be.
2. There is hope for this defense.
Yes, it was the Bucs. But all we've heard this off-season was how McCown - with his tall, dominant receivers - were going to surprise people in the NFL. We also saw our defense get repeatedly gashed on the ground for two straight weeks. And we are all too familiar that the team did not have any sacks through the first two weeks.
Well, much of that changed tonight. First, this defense finally showed up against the run. We knew the Bucs were going to want to run it, but they couldn't - finishing the night with under 70 yards rushing and around 3.6 yards per carry. Guys like Goodman and even Tyson Jackson did a much better job of containing the ends, while our linebackers were getting guys wrapped up.
As for our secondary, they blanketed Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans for most of the night and Kemal Ishmael came away with an impressive pick 6.
And lo and behold - we finally got to the QB. Corey Peters went into beast mode, consistently getting into the backfield for TFLs and a sack. Likewise, Johnathan Massaqoui came away with the first sack of the year, with Maponga joining him later. Even Shembo had what should have been a sack/fumble (but was ruled an incomplete pass).
Sometimes, you need a game to boost your confidence. Let's hope this is the springboard for our oft hammered D.
3. Julio is back.
9 receptions. 161 yards. 2 Touchdowns. Any wonders about whether Julio was 100% were completely dispelled tonight. Julio feasted - and against a good corner in Alterraun Verner - and put those stats up in only 3 quarters.
It's no surprise that our offense is made better by having Julio on it. Today emphasized that when he's healthy, he is easily one of the top 3 receivers in the league. Some might argue that a game like today makes him the top receiver, though I'd still give that nod to Megatron.
With JJ healthy and Ryan getting protection, the sky may be the limit for this impressive offense.
I feel like I can't finish this without making note of how amazing it was to see Devin Hester break the NFL record for return Touchdowns. His post-game interview with NFL Network was amazing, and gut-level honest. If you get the chance, find a video of it and play it back - it will warm your heart.
Your thoughts on the drubbing?