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Falcons vs. Buccaneers recap: Offensive dominance gets Atlanta its seventh win

If not for a fumble and a couple of weird play calls, Atlanta might have hung 40 on the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Old habits take over when you’re watching Falcons games. For example, when the Falcons allowed the Buccaneers to score two touchdowns, bringing them within seven points, the dominant feeling was fear. Down two of their top cornerbacks, wearing their cursed black jerseys, and reverting to their early season habit of blowing it late, the Falcons were doomed to let this thing get tied up, and then what would happen?

As you know, that’s not how it went down. The Falcons managed to put together an impressive drive to get them to 34-20, and the Bucs never got another point, ensuring a 14 point victory for Atlanta.

Maybe these aren’t the Falcons that gave us so much grief and heartburn earlier this year. Certainly the offense is light years beyond what it was against, say, Buffalo, Miami, and New England, when they couldn’t manage more than 41 points combined despite all the offensive firepower in the world. They’ve played depleted defenses, sure, but Atlanta has now rung up over 100 points over their last three contests, and the difference in the play calling and overall quality of play has gone way up ever since the Falcons gutted one out in the rain versus the Jets. Even though the defense had some brutal stretches in this one, they did hold a capable unit to 20 points, and they did so down Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole and despite getting virtually no pass rush.

These Falcons are 7-4 and clearly hitting their stride, even if we can’t know how they’ll hold up against the toughest stretch of their schedule. They’ve sorted out the most persistently troublesome issues that plagued them earlier in the season, and they were just a couple of plays away from utterly blowing the doors off the Buccaneers. I could spend time waxing poetic about Julio Jones’ dominance or Tevin Coleman’s big game, but it’s not really necessary. It is enough to acknowledge that this looks like a good football team once more, and with the NFC South tightening up late in the season, they look like a legitimate threat for a playoff spot and perhaps even the division. We’ve waited a long time to see this, and a month ago I was legitimately dubious we would see it.

So bask in this win and get ready to buckle up for the remaining four NFC South games and one difficult matchup against the Vikings. There’s no telling what’s ahead, but we can feel hope once more. Then, you know, read our full recap.

The Good

  • For yet another week, Matt Ryan was stellar. He didn’t throw a pick or and went over 300 yards, consistently hooking up with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu to keep the offense moving against a weak Tampa Bay secondary. He once again wound up with just a single touchdown, ensuring the gaudy MVP numbers won’t be there, but Ryan has been incredibly effective for these Falcons as they’ve won four of their last five games.
  • Tevin Coleman may take a backseat to Devonta Freeman again next week, but it won’t be because he played poorly enough to deserve it. On the day, he piled up 97 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, running with the speed and surprising power we’ve become accustomed to from him. The Falcons truly have the most enviable running back situation in the NFL at the moment.
  • Minus his fumble, which could have been so costly, Terron Ward ran the ball with poise and power. That was exemplified by his 14 yard pickup in the fourth quarter on a crucial third and 1, but he finished with 35 yards and just seven carries. The time to doubt his ability as a third running back has passed.
  • Julio Jones simply had one of the best days of his career. He beat single coverage and double coverage, caught touchdown passes from Mohamed Sanu and Matt Ryan, and ran by basically everybody. He finished the day with 12 receptions for 253 yards, touchdowns, and a single carry for 15 yards. There’s no doubt he was the major reason the Falcons won today, and it was great to see him have such a massive day after a relatively quiet year.
  • As always, Mohamed Sanu was reliable, coming up with key third down catches and chain movers and finishing the day with eight receptions for 64 yards. He’s like clockwork.
  • Speaking of clockwork, Matt Bryant.
  • On a day where the pass rush really struggled to get home, Takkarist McKinley probably got the most pressure, and finished with Atlanta’s only sack. He’s up to three on the season and he should probably have more, and he remains a deeply intriguing player over the next few years.
  • I’m not going to tell you that C.J. Goodwin played well, per se, but I’m going to say that he fared pretty well for a man thrown into an impossible situation. He should never be asked to cover Mike Evans, but he was, and he wasn’t a catastrophe. That’s...something, at least.
  • Until he got hurt, Desmond Trufant was balling again, having made two big plays while covering Mike Evans, including one that saved a touchdown. He’s good, folks.
  • Give Steve Sarkisian the due you’ve been denying him for the gameplan here, which worked almost to perfection minus one costly fumble and a mandatory stall out. Sark dialed up that beautiful Sanu-to-Julio bomb, that 15 yard Julio run, and finally just fed Julio the ball all game in a very favorable matchup. He’s showing signs that he understands his weapons and how to use them, minus a continued insistence on dialing up screens to Taylor Gabriel.
  • This team had a million chances to finish collapsing and let Tampa Bay climb back into this, and while they came close, they didn’t do so despite losing cornerbacks and falling into familiar patterns. That deserves credit after the way this year has unfolded, regardless of the opponent.
  • I’ll whisper this one: Andre Roberts did well yesterday, breaking off a couple of nice returns. Give praise where it’s due, I say.

The Ugly

  • That fumble was not fun, and it was inexcusable that Ward didn’t cover up the ball inside the red zone so late in the game. It was just one mistake, at least, and it didn’t cripple this team.
  • Every time I think the Falcons have figured out how to feed Taylor Gabriel, they show they do not understand it. They found Gabriel on one nice 13 yard gain, but the other two targets that went his way went for a combined three yards. Part of that comes down to blocking, sure, but the Falcons really need to figure out how to get him open if they want that big play element in the offense.
  • The Falcons were in a bad place after they lost Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole (and Robert Alford, for a short time), something I mentioned when the Bucs managed to get within a touchdown. But it is also true, as many Falcons fans mentioned to me, that this defense did nothing to compensate for the loss of those players. The Bucs were able to move thanks to poor coverage, yes, but also thanks to a complete lack of pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick throughout most of the game, which became glaring in the second half as things got tighter.
  • That said, the Falcons are going to be in trouble against a productive Vikings passing attack if they’re down Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole a week from now, full stop. We have to hope at least one of them returns.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

If you did not say Julio Jones, please play the disappointed Price is Right horn in your head. He was magnificent.

One Takeaway

This Falcons team truly is rounding into form, having now scored gobs of points in three straight weeks and rattling off three wins in a row.

Next Week

One of the season’s stiffest tests, in the form of the Minnesota Vikings. They are an absurdly tough team, and one of the favorites from the NFC this year. Visit The Daily Norseman for more.

Final Word