Thursday night, the Atlanta Falcons dominated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 43-28. Atlanta’s offense was firing on all cylinders for most of the game after failing to convert on two Tampa turnovers early in the contest, and that performance was complimented by one of the best games the Atlanta defense has had so far—the young group looked overwhelmed early on but got their act together as the game went on. We’ll take a quick look at the key contributors to this big win.
Let’s check out the offense.
- Matt Ryan, 89.7: Matt Ryan looked as good as he has this season and re-established himself as a possible MVP candidate. Ryan was 25-of-34 for 344 yards and four touchdowns against Tampa’s defense, and he made every kind of throw that you would want a quarterback to make without any legitimate missteps. I am curious what it takes for a quarterback to make an A rating using PFF’s system, because if there was a game where a guy deserved one, it was this game.
- Julio Jones, 86.6: Julio only had one catch through most of the first half, until the last couple of minutes of the first half when he caught two straight passes going into the half, and then Jones continued the trend in the second half. Julio Jones had eight receptions for 111 yards, including an absolutely gorgeous touchdown catch on a fade pass from Ryan late in the third quarter. Jones seemed a step slow early on but really took control as the game went on and the Bucs decided to try and cover Julio one-on-one. Thanks Mike Smith.
- Ryan Schrader, 83.7 & Alex Mack, 81.1: The offensive line played a good game against a pretty good Tampa Bay front. Despite a couple of sacks, Matt Ryan was pretty clean all night and had plenty of time to throw the ball. On top of that, the O-Line blocked pretty well in the running game, especially as the game went on: Devonta Freeman and Terron Ward ran for over 100 yards and played a big role in setting up play-action for Matt Ryan. This offensive line is doing a really good job and these two guys are a huge part of it.
- De’Vondre Campbell, 84.8 & Deion Jones, 84.7 : Man, it is great to finally see Campbell’s name up on this list after all that he has fought through on the injury front this season. He finished with eight tackles, a forced fumble and a couple of nice plays in coverage. This was Campbell’s best game of the season, by far, and I think it is because he is finally pretty close to 100 percent. Jones essentially did what he has been doing all season: just playing well as he finished with six tackles and some solid coverage as well.
This defense is much better this season and is improving each week, it seems. Expect that to continue as Campbell and Deion Jones get better and as Campbell gets back to full health.
- Adrian Clayborn, 80.9: I don’t know if you guys know this or not, but the Atlanta Falcons have a pass rush this season. They are top ten in the NFL in sacks and Clayborn has been the most consistent member of that unit on the defensive line. Clayborn got one more sack last night that brought his total number to 4.5 sacks on the season. After a disappointing season last year, Clayborn has become a legit threat to opposing quarterbacks.
- Jalen Collins, 79.5: Wait a second! I thought the team gave up on this guy? Once Desmond Trufant went down with an injury, I was genuinely concerned that Mike Evans would go off on Jalen Collins and Robert Alford, but Collins did a really good job in coverage as well as knocking the mess out of Jameis Winston on an odd two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter. I don’t know if this game does anything to the depth chart in the defensive backfield, but it at least gave the coaching staff some confidence that Collins can be a serviceable replacement if an injury occurs.
- Taylor Gabriel, 80.9 & Austin Hooper, 80.5: The offense just works better when Gabriel is in the game, so much so that many now consider Gabriel the legitimate WR2 behind Julio in this offense. Gabriel scored his first rushing touchdown on a jet sweep and was consistently creating separation against Tampa’s defensive backs. Austin Hooper played his best game of the season, giving some Falcons’ fans flashbacks to Tony Gonzales and his time in Atlanta. Please don’t make the mistake of saying that I’m calling Austin Hooper the next Tony Gonzales, but Hooper looked good last night—very good.
Atlanta is 6-3 and sit pretty comfortably atop the NFC South. Even more enjoyable, the Falcons only play one game in the next 22 days, giving the team a chance to heal up before the home stretch of the season. The defense is improving and the offense is still putting up 30+ points a game. If things continue that way, the month of January could be very interesting for Atlanta.