The Atlanta Falcons secured a necessary win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in a game that was equal parts and impressive and infuriating. A different, less effective — and more injured — team emerged from the locker room in the second half, but nevertheless held on for a 34-29 victory. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad.
Mohamed Sanu’s sideline tight-rope walk touchdown
A familiar refrain: The Falcons immediately surrender a first possession touchdown. It’s one that’s grown tired through six weeks, but alas quarterback Jameis Winston and running back Peyton Barber went all Ginsu knife on the Falcons defense on their opening drive that culminated in a 15-yard touchdown.
This time? The Falcons immediately responded for six — a Matt Ryan touchdown pass down the left sideline to Mohamed Sanu. The pass and catch were superb, sure, but Sanu’s ability to maintain his balance and break two tackles whilst barely staying inbounds for the score is what earns him the opening tip of the cap. Sanu’s been a tremendous possession receiver during his tenure as a Falcon, so we’ll see what the team’s plans are for him going forward.
For now? Well done, Mr. Sanu.
Ito Smith’s TD run
Ito Smith played judge, jury, and executioner with his second quarter touchdown run — one that earned him historic honors by setting the Falcons’ record for consecutive games with a rushing touchdown by a rookie.
Smith has been a revelation in a ground game that’s missing its starter, and has carved out a firm place on the offense even when Devonta Freeman returns. His scoring run early in the second quarter showed explosion, vision, and decisiveness, following strong blocks on the inside zone and then cutting back inside for the touchdown. If the Falcons decide to let Tevin Coleman walk, Ito Smith looks fully capable so far of filling his role.
Duke Riley’s mullet causes an interception
The Falcons were on the bad side of a few interceptions last season. 2017 brought us the Buttception and the Kneeception, but the odd luck finally turned in our favor in this one.
Five minutes into the third quarter with the Buccaneers driving and poised to score, Jameis Winston heaved a pass over the middle and into the end zone that doinked off of the back of Duke Riley’s helmet and into the hands of Brian Poole. The mullet-aided pick kept Tampa off the board, preserving a 24-13 lead.
Yes, I know it didn’t technically carom off of Duke Riley’s magnificent hair, but with all of the wacky picks from last season, just let me have this.
Matt Bryant 57-yard field goal, Dan Quinn’s decision to call it
Just absolute execution all around. I know many a Falcons fan began screaming at their televisions when Matt Bryant came jogging out with about a minute left and Atlanta in veritable no man’s land on the Tampa Bay 39. Matt Bryant booted the ball through the uprights and to the moon, naturally, and gave the Falcons more than a field goal cushion on the Bucs’ final drive.
If he would have missed it, well, we’re most likely talking about a different outcome right now. Dan Quinn put all of his cards on the table, displaying ultimate confidence in the player who has rarely faltered in clutch situations, and Bryant rewarded him in kind with another booming kick that no 43-year-old man has any business making. Enormous hat tips to both Bryant and Quinn.
Dropped passes were a major issue last season, but they have mostly been cleaned up in 2018 — until Sunday. The Falcons receivers dropped three passes, the largest of which were tallied by Justin Hardy and Austin Hooper in key third down situations. To his immense credit, Hooper redeemed himself by reeling in arguably the biggest third down catch of the game — a fourth quarter reception with Lavonte David draped all over him.
With a virtual sieve on defense, the offense doesn’t need any unforced errors stymieing its ability to move the chains. No more drops, please.
Continuing the Jordan Richards experiment
This can apply as a multi-game head-scratcher, but the Tampa Bay game was proof positive that Dan Quinn needs to stop running Jordan Richards out at strong safety. Missed tackles, poor angles, shoddy coverage — at one point he was straight run over. It’s been a relative smorgasbord of poor defensive play from the former Patriot, yet for some reason he continues to receive the bulk of playing time — 98% of the snaps on Sunday.
Of course the caveat: The Falcons don’t have many options, but as Richards has not proven to be effective at all, it’s curious that Quinn has not given recent additions Keith Tandy or Sharrod Neasman a shot.