Falcons Crush Buccaneers in 56-14 Win on Thursday Night

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester high-steps for his touchdown

The Atlanta Falcons were able to break a number of records with a 56-14 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside the Georgia Dome. It marked the most points scored by the Falcons in that venue, as well as the second-most scored by the team all-time. Kickoff specialist Devin Hester would also set a record, becoming the league’s all-time leader with 20 non-offensive touchdowns.

Matt Ryan also set a record, as his 87.5 completion percentage was a new club single-game record. Ryan completed 21 of 24 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns before giving way to T.J. Yates. Yates completed three of four passes for 64 yards with an interception. Steven Jackson led rushers with 54 yards on 14 carries, and also had a touchdown. Antone Smith also earned a score, rushing for 50 yards on four carries. Hester scored on his lone carry for 20 yards and also had a catch for 25 yards. Julio Jones led receivers with nine grabs for 161 yards and two scores. Eric Weems (four catches, 69 yards) and Patrick DiMarco (three catches, 35 yards) also contributed while Harry Douglas caught Ryan’s other touchdown pass and finished the night with a pair of catches for 14 yards. Matt Bryant missed his lone field goal attempt from 59 yards out. But his eight extra points tied the franchise record for most in the game, set back in 1973 by Nick Mike-Mayer in the team’s only game where they scored more than tonight’s total: a 62-7 win over the New Orleans Saints. Matt Bosher had just a pair of punts for an average of 42 yards with one placed inside the 20-yard line. Hester had a trio of punt returns for 68 yards, including his 62-yard score. He also returned his lone kickoff for 29 yards. Everything was not completely rosy, as the Falcons did manage to turn the ball over four times on the night, including a pick-six thrown by Yates late. But the Falcons converted eight of 11 third downs and generated 488 yards of total offense, including 144 on the ground.

Defensively, the Falcons put the clamps on the Bucs by limiting them to just 217 total yards of offense. The Bucs had a mere 63 total yards in the first half thanks to just 11 minutes of total possession. The Bucs were certainly more mistake-prone than the Falcons, losing four fumbles and throwing a pick-six of their own. They managed to convert only three of 13 third-down tries on the night. Paul Worrilow and Robert McClain tied for the team lead with six tackles each. Worrilow also added a forced fumble. Robert Alford (two tackles, two pass deflections); Joplo Bartu (two tackles, one fumble recovery); Malliciah Goodman (one tackle, on forced fumble); Kemal Ishmael (four tackles, one interception); Dwight Lowery (one tackle, one fumble recovery); Stansly Maponga (one tackle, one sack, one fumble recovery); Jonathan Massaquoi (one tackle, one sack); William Moore (four tackles); Corey Peters (four tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss) and Desmond Trufant (three tackles, one pass deflection) had notable games. Hester also contributed with a forced fumble and recovery while playing on offense. The Falcons were able to generate 28 points off the many Buccaneers turnovers.

The Falcons got the ball rolling early, with Ryan dialing in on his connection to Jones with Roddy White out of the lineup on the first snap for a 14-yard completion. Two plays later, a check down to Patrick DiMarco for 16 yards put the Falcons in Buccaneers territory. Ryan then hit Jones once more for a 25-yard gain to get the Falcons in the red zone for the first time after just four offensive plays. On the next play, Steven Jackson ran tough off the right side for an eight-yard gain to put the ball at the Bucs three-yard line. On the next play, Ryan scrambled and found an open Harry Douglas in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game.

The Falcons defense forced a three-and-out, although Kroy Biermann was beat on a wheel route by Bobby Rainey, but the Bucs running back was unable to reel in the catch. On the ensuing Bucs punt, Devin Hester broke a long gain of 48 yards, but the play was called back due to offsetting penalties on both teams. Michael Koenen’s ensuing punt was out of bounds and the Falcons started their next drive at their 25-yard line.

The Falcons got their ground game going on the ensuing drive, with Steven Jackson taking the third play from scrimmage for a 13-yard gain on the ground. Two plays later, Ryan dialed up Levine Toilolo for a 12-yard catch. Then Ryan went back to Toilolo two plays later, but the tight end fumbled after a 13-yard reception. Mark Barron scooped up the loose ball, but Hester stripped him from behind. Hester also fell on the loose ball and the Falcons regained possession at the Buccaneers 37-yard line. Jackson would get carries on three of the next five plays for a combined 18 yards to get the ball down to the Bucs nine-yard line. Two plays later, Ryan once again was able to get outside the pocket and find an open Jones in the end zone for an eight-yard score to push the Falcons lead to 14-0 with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kemal Ishmael returns an interception for a touchdown

The Bucs miscues continued on their next drive, with returner Solomon Patton fumbling after a 19-yard kickoff return, but the play was blown dead before the Falcons could recover. Three plays later, Ishmael jumped Josh McCown’s throw to Vincent Jackson and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 21-0 lead.

The Bucs got the ball back but another turnover on the ensuing drive ended any hope of them getting back into the game. Bobby Rainey was stripped by Worrilow on the third play on the ensuing drive, and Lowery recovered it to give Atlanta the ball at Tampa Bay’s 35-yard line.

To start their next drive, Ryan took a deep shot to Hester, but it was incomplete. However, the Falcons still managed to get a first down thanks to an illegal contact penalty on Alterraun Verner. Two plays later, Ryan was dropped for a sack by Dane Fletcher and Akeem Spence. But on the next play, a 3rd-and-17, Ryan found Jones for a 17-yard gain to end the first quarter to give the team a new set of downs. On the opening play of the second quarter, Hester ran untouched on an end-around for a 20-yard score. The Falcons now had a 28-0 lead with three quarters to go in the game.

The Bucs continued to struggle to get anything going offensively on their next drive, with a holding penalty on Patrick Omameh backing them up on 3rd-and-17. Peters would bottle up Mike James in the backfield on a five-yard tackle for loss to force another Buccaneers punt.

Ryan would hit Jones for a 20-yard pass to convert the first third down of the ensuing Falcons series. Three plays later, a 18-yard catch from Jones would put the Falcons at the Bucs 11-yard line. But Antone Smith would be stripped by Leonard Johnson at the one-yard line on his way into the end zone and the Bucs would take over at the two.

However, the Bucs barely were able to move on the ball on a three-and-out. The Bucs paid dearly on their punt, as Hester broke loose for another big return and took a 62-yard punt to the house. That score broke the all-time record for return touchdowns, as Hester pushed past ex-Falcon Deion Sanders with his 20th non-offensive score. That score also put the Falcons up 35-0 with seven minutes still remaining in the first half.

The Falcons defense continued to clamp down the Bucs offense on the ensuing drive. Jonathan Massaquoi earned the team’s first sack of the season on the drive. On the very next play, McCown’s deep pass to Vincent Jackson was incomplete and he injured his thumb on his throwing hand, exiting the game for good.

The Falcons failed to do much on their next drive, with the major event being an injury to Harry Douglas on the second play that sidelined him for the remainder of the game. That injury would strain the Falcons wide receiver depth for the rest of the game.

On the ensuing Bucs series, they were able to convert their first third-down of the game, as new Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon hit Mike Evans for a six-yard completion on 3rd-and-5. The Falcons also racked up their second sack of the season with Corey Peters finding his way to Glennon on the next play. The two-minute warning hit next and the Bucs could not convert a 3rd-and-17 to continue the drive.

The Falcons took over with 1:24 left in the half at their 14-yard line. Ryan connected with his first three passes, the latter of which was a 19-yard throw to Eric Weems to put the ball at midfield with 20 seconds left. On the next play, Weems failed to get out of bounds in time after a six-yard catch, forcing the Falcons to burn their final timeout of the half. Matt Bryant would attempt a 59-yard field goal which had enough distance, but was wide left as the first half came to a close.

The Bucs received the ball to start the third quarter and were able to convert another third down with a 19-yard scramble by Glennon on their opening drive. On the next play, Glennon dialed up Evans for a deep shot, but the rookie receiver could not make the grab. On the next play, Rainey was stripped by Goodman and Bartu fell on the loose ball. The Falcons had the ball back again at their 44-yard line with 13 minutes left in the quarter.

But the Falcons would give it right back, as Devonta Freeman on the second play from scrimmage fumbled after a seven-yard run. Lavonte David stripped him and Dashon Goldson made a heady play by knocking it back into the field of play before it could go out of bounds so David could recover.

After Peters met James in the backfield for a three-yard loss to open the next Bucs series, center Evan Dietrich-Smith was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty to back up the Bucs to a 3rd-and-28. Of course, the Bucs failed to convert and punted after a three-and-out. Hester would have another big return on the night, for 40 yards, but it was called back due to an illegal block by Nate Stupar.

That gave the Falcons the ball at their 18-yard line with 11:02 left on the third-quarter clock. On 3rd-and-5, Ryan took a deep shot to Hester on a lob that went for 25 yards to put the ball at midfield. An unnecessary roughness call on Akeem Spence on the next play gave the Falcons another 15 yards. With the Bucs reeling, Ryan took another shot downfield on the very next play. This time, Jones made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch for a 40-yard touchdown to push Atlanta’s lead to 42-0 with more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The comedy of errors on the Bucs’ part ensued on their next series, as Dietrich-Smith’s snap went over the head of Glennon and Maponga picked it up and returned it six yards to the two-yard line. On the very next play, Steven Jackson muscled his way through several tacklers to get the two-yard score. The Falcons now had pushed their lead to 49-0 with only 13 seconds passing since their previous score.

The Bucs finally started to move the ball a bit on their next series. Glennon attempted a deep pass to Evans and it was nearly picked off by Lowery, who landed hard on his side and exited the game. On the very next play, Dietrich-Smith was flagged again for an unnecessary roughness penalty that negated a five-yard Rainey run. Backed up to 2nd-and-30 and eventually 3rd-and-21 made it impossible for the Bucs to convert, and Koenen punted again.

T.J. Yates entered the game at quarterback and the Falcons responded quickly. Yates’ first pass was a 40-yard strike to Weems on a go route. Weems fumbled the ball out of bounds, but the officials ruled him down by contact. Two plays later, Antone Smith turned the corner and ran 38 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. The Falcons now had a 56-0 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

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Matt Ryan celebrates Falcons win

The Bucs were able to move the ball towards midfield before the quarter came to a close. But the first play of the fourth quarter resulted in another bad snap by Dietrich-Smith, but Glennon was able to fall on it for no gain. On the next play, Shembo came unblocked off the edge to deliver a blindside hit on Glennon that jarred the ball loose for what may have been a fumble. But Falcons head coach Mike Smith opted against challenging what was ruled an incomplete pass. The Bucs took advantage, converting a 4th-and-1 on a two-yard run by Rainey two plays later. An illegal use of hands penalty on Demar Dotson would back up the Bucs once more a few plays later, but they managed to recover with Vincent Jackson making his first catch of the night on a 12-yard grab to give the Bucs a new set of downs at the Falcons 11-yard line. Three plays later, Jackson earned his second catch of the night with a three-yard score on a jump ball in the end zone against Robert Alford. Jackson likely got away with a push-off on the play, but there was no flag. The Bucs finally were on the score board with less than nine minutes to go in the game, down 56-7.

The Falcons ensuing series went poorly, with Yates first pass being picked off by Danny Lansanah, who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. The Bucs had their second score 90 seconds after their first.

The Falcons proceeded to stick mostly to running the ball on their ensuing possession. Devonta Freeman got most of the work, rushing seven times for just five yards. But the Falcons were able to keep the drive alive and continue to milk clock thanks to two completions by Yates to convert a pair of third downs. The Falcons were able to reach midfield and wind the clock down beyond the two-minute warning before punting it back to the Bucs with 1:45 left in the game.

The Falcons defense capped off the night with Maponga earning a sack on the second play from scrimmage, backing up the Bucs to their own five-yard line. An eight-yard draw to Rainey was the final play of the game and the Falcons earned a much-needed and impressive 56-14 win.

The Falcons divisional record now stands at 2-0, with their overall record being 2-1 this season. They will have a few extra days of rest before they have to travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. It will be the Falcons first-ever trip to TCF Bank Stadium, the temporary home of the Vikings before their new stadium is completed in a few years.

The Falcons have won five of their last eight games against the Vikings, including a 3-1 record when playing in Minnesota. Although all of those games were in the more hospitable confines of the Metrodome. Their last trip to Minnesota was in 2008, resulting in a 24-17 victory. Their last matchup against the Vikings came in 2011 and resulted in a 24-14 win in the Georgia Dome.

The Vikings will be looking for their first win in TCF Bank Stadium. They are 0-1 this year in their first season playing there. They also lost a game in 2010 to the Chicago Bears when they had to play a game there due to the collapse of the Metrodome’s roof.

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Aaron Freeman
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