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Falcons - Buccaneers Thursday Night Football recap: A blowout lifts our spirits

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Atlanta’s done well in 2016, but this was a fun game that made us all feel great about where the Falcons are heading, and that’s a nice note to go into the bye on.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fair to say the Atlanta Falcons avenged their Week 1 loss to the Buccaneers in last night’s game, and that they did so in spectacular fashion. If there was any remaining doubt about this offense’s ability to shred so-so defenses, consider it erased.

The defense stiffened up after some early gaffes, aided by a veritable hailstorm of flags that continually backed up the Buccaneers, and the offense was basically unstoppable past a certain point, putting up the Falcons by two scores, then three scores, then four scores in the fourth quarter. By the time the Buccaneers got on the board again, it was way too late to make a difference.

There’s almost too much to talk about here. Atlanta was at least solid defensively against an offense that is one dimensional and hurt, but still capable of putting up big point totals. We have to be careful about how much we celebrate, given the injuries and odds stacked against Tamp bay, but it was a positive effort overall.

The offense was magnificent, with only a handful of inaccurate throws from Matt Ryan and a fumble marring an otherwise incredible day. The Falcons have been making us think they might actually be a contender, and while the Bucs are nobody’s idea of an elite team, their ability to absolutely blow a division rival out of the water on short rest on the road speaks well to their chances of contending the rest of the way. It’s irresponsible to think it, but I’m still thinking my revised 10-6 prediction may end up being unduly pessimistic before all is said and done.

In the end, despite the injury to Desmond Trufant, a lack of Tevin Coleman, Jacob Tamme, and Dwight Freeney, the Falcons were simply better than the Buccaneers. Much has changed since the first week of the season, and Atlanta now has such a commanding lead in the NFC South that they must be considered the favorites to win the division. This is, to put it mildly, an excellent time to be a Falcons fan, and we’ll just hope they can keep this going and keep us all happy.

On to the full recap.

The Good

  • This Falcons offense is unfair. On their first drive, they got a 20-plus yard catch and run by Devonta Freeman, a 15 yard run by Taylor Gabriel (!), and then a long touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo where the tall tight end was basically wide open and Ryan merely had to roll out of the pocket in a leisurely way to find him. By the time things finished up, the Falcons had rolled up 43 points, which is insane.
  • Matt Ryan has been stellar this season, and in some ways, this was his best game of the year. There were a handful of inaccurate throws sprinkled in, as is typical for any quarterback, and the fumble hurt. But Ryan was crisp on his throws, found the open man consistently, and took plenty of contact without missing a beat, playing one of his best games in a season where gaudy stat lines have become commonplace.
  • Devonta Freeman wound up with 17 carries for 77 yards before yielding to Terron Ward and Stevan Ridley late. It was a more effective effort than that strong stat line indicates, with Freeman powering through contact and bounding around trash to pick up those yards. Ward and Ridley then did a nice job in relief, part of yet another tidy effort on the ground for a team that has managed to stay balanced even with Tevin Coleman out.
  • Julio Jones can’t be contained for long, and he certainly wasn’t contained in this one. The All-Pro wide receiver reeled in eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, stomping all over an overmatched Tampa Bay defense and pulling down one of the prettiest toe-tapping scores you’ll see this year.
  • I told you to keep an eye on Taylor Gabriel, and he delivered in a huge way in this one. In the first half alone, Gabriel came down with a nice first down catch and carried the ball twice for 24 yards and a touchdown. His speed and Kyle Shanahan’s clever play design make him incredibly dangerous, and
  • For the second straight week, Mohamed Sanu played a very good game, overcoming a drop on the first drive to reel in a couple of tough catches, bull through contact, and generally show himself to be a worthy second option in the passing game. Apparently it just took a little time to get there.
  • Vic Beasley got off the snap too fast a couple of times, but he and Grady Jarrett were legitimately disruptive in this one, forcing Jameis Winston to get rid of the ball a couple of times, combining for a sack, and generally screwing up the Buccaneers rhythm.
  • Adrian Clayborn has been a force to be reckoned with this year, rolling up three sacks over the last two weeks and bringing more pressure through nine games this season than he did all last year.
  • De’Vondre Campbell has had a decidedly mixed, injury-marred rookie season, but he was ferocious on the Buccaneers’ second drive and forced a fumble that Brian Poole was able to recover. He also piled up nine total tackles and was very physical.
  • Jalen Collins has taken a ton of abuse since he was drafted, so you gotta give him credit for playing a solid game, bringing legitimate physicality to cornerback, and making a big play on third down in the third quarter by slapping the ball out of the way. If he can play well on a weekly basis, this secondary goes from good to downright scary.
  • Brian Poole has been one of the best undrafted free agents in the NFL, and a huge pleasant surprise for Atlanta. Give it up for the man, and may he become a fixture here.
  • Really, the entire defense did well
  • The Falcons’ luck with fumbles turned in this one, with two recoveries on the second and third Buccaneers drives of the games.
  • I say this every week, but Matt Bryant is great. He was perfect again in this one, and that mattered early when the Falcons needed him to nail field goals because the offense was sputtering a bit.
  • That was just a fun game, particularly in the second half. I can’t complain about much, so I’ll keep the next section short.

The Ugly

  • For what seemed like the 10th consecutive week, despite the Falcons playing only nine games thus far, the Falcons allowed an ugly first drive. It didn’t wind up making a huge difference in the end, but it’d be nice if they could clean it up.
  • The protection was a bit rough in the first half, but thankfully the Falcons rallied well and did a great job of giving Matt Ryan time in the pocket (and blocking downfield for receivers).
  • Matt Ryan had a fumble on a sack, and there were some issues with handoffs that stood out because they’ve been atypical this year.
  • This was a weird game from a referee perspective. The penalties calmed down in the second half, but I didn’t love how many flags were flying in the first half, and the Buccaneers got nailed with some legitimately questionable penalties that killed their drives. I don’t think it would’ve decided the game—the Falcons were rolling—but the quality of the game is still important, and I think the flag parties work against the NFL in that regard.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

It’s hard to pick just one person in a bloodbath like this, but I’m going to give it to Ryan, who played a gem of a game despite the hiccups. Julio Jones belongs in the conversation, as does Taylor Gabriel and a half-dozen others. Man, what a game.

One Takeaway

Atlanta might be good! Perhaps even very good! We’ll contain ourselves.

Next Week

IT IS NOT THE BYE! I am calendar-averse.

The Falcons get a tough Eagles team next, with rookie QB Carson Wentz and a physical defense. Check out Bleeding Green Nation for more.

Final Word

Spectacular.