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The best wins of the Mike Smith era: Visiting destruction upon the Buccaneers

The new coach’s tenure got off to a magical start.

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons

Over the last couple of weeks, Jeanna Thomas reminded you of the worst losses of the Mike Smith era. With the Dan Quinn era entering its third year, and the team coming off perhaps the worst loss in its history, it seemed a good time to remind you where the Falcons have been before we get a closer look at where they’re headed.

It wouldn’t be fair to Smitty if we didn’t consider the best wins of his career, so that’s what we’re doing now. And when Jeanna asked me if I’d consider writing a couple of articles in this series, I knew right away which game I had to write up.

For my money, few wins in the Mike Smith era were more satisfying than the 56-14 drubbing the Falcons perpetuated against the Buccaneers in Week 3 of the 2014 season. This was before the magic would wear off in spectacular fashion later in the year, before the defining losses that would get Smith fired and bring on the Dan Quinn era. This was, at its core, an absurd and wonderful game that no Falcons (or Bucs) fan is soon going to forget.

Week 3, 2014 season, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This one got off to a pretty good start right away. Devin Hester took the opening kickoff 29 yards, and Matt Ryan and company moved swiftly down the field, capping the drive with a rare Harry Douglas touchdown grab. 7-0, good guys.

The Falcons then held the Bucs to six yards, with Kroy Biermann providing strong coverage against Bobby Rainey (what a weird sentence) and forcing a punt. Atlanta responded with a seven minute drive to put them up 14-0. At this point, I think most of us felt good about a win, but things took a decided turn very quickly after that.

Josh McCown threw two incomplete passes and then tossed one that Kemal Ishmael picked off, returning it for a touchdown. 21-0. On the next drive, McCown had a little more luck, completing a 13 yard pass to Rainey....that Rainey fumbled away on a hit from Paul Worrilow. The Falcons picked that up, drove down the field, and Devin Hester scored on a 20 yard run to start the second quarter. It was now 28-0 and approaching blowout territory.

The Bucs couldn’t get anything going again, but the Falcons gifted them an Antone Smith fumble on their next drive that the Bucs once again failed to do anything with. The subsequent punt was returned 62 yards for a touchdown by Hester, putting the Falcons up 35-0.

The two teams spent the rest of the second quarter trading punts, with Matt Bryant missing a 59 yard field goal that made you think Mike Smith wanted to keep pouring it on up 35-0, which was a little unusual.

The third quarter was much the same to begin with, with both Tampa Bay and Atlanta fumbling away drives. But then Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones for a 40 yard touchdown, putting the Falcons up 42-0, and then the Bucs fumbled yet another one away, and Steven Jackson scored on the next play on a two yard run and the Falcons were up 49-0. It was a ridiculous blowout that filled every Falcons fan with joy, and two drives later, Antone Smith scored again on a 38 yard run, and it was 56-0.

I can’t stress how fun this game was. It often seemed like Smith’s Falcons would ease up when they got a comfortable lead, whether intentionally or because the defense was frequently getting by more on guile than pure talent, but this game saw them force a ton of fumbles and author big plays, and the offense was brilliant.

The Bucs would score twice more, but this was a symphony even if it wasn’t a shutout. Smitty kept the pedal on the gas the whole game, the Falcons’ offense was firing on all cylinders, and Hester put together a truly special game with his punt return touchdown and touchdown run. The Mike Smith era didn’t get a happy ending, but this will always be one of my fondest memories of his teams.