By Matthew Asher
Following their lackluster performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2, the Atlanta Falcons (2-1) just put the entire NFL on notice after their Week 3, 56-14 shellacking over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3). How good were the Falcons against the Bucs on Thursday night? Atlanta already built up a 35 point-lead before Tampa Bay picked up a single first down.
This is one of the biggest wins in franchise history for the Falcons. Only two garbage time touchdowns by the Bucs late in the fourth quarter prevented Tampa from suffering the absolute worst loss in their franchise history. When you realize that Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White didn’t play a single snap, the Falcons victory is that much more impressive.
Matt Ryan gets an A+
If there is such a thing as a perfect game, Matty Ice came extremely close to showing how to pull that off. Ryan completed 21 of his 24 pass attempts for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Unlike last week against the Bengals where Ryan was constantly under pressure, the offensive line gave Ryan all the time he needed.
While throwing for less than 300 yards may seem like an off-game, Ryan and the rest of the starters on offense didn’t even play three full quarters of the game. After Steven Jackson’s rushing touchdown in the third quarter, which gave the Falcons a 49-point lead, Smitty pulled the starters meaning the damage could have been much worse.
Julio Jones gets an A+
With Roddy White out for the game, Jones definitely picked up the slack. Responsible for more than half the passing yards, Jones finished the night with nine receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
Devin Hester gets an A+
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. This game wasn’t against his former team, but Tampa Bay’s new head coach was Hester’s coach in Chicago so this had to feel good. Hester scored both Atlanta touchdowns in the second quarter. The first came on the first play of the second quarter in the form of a 20-yard run.
The second touchdown was a 62-yard punt return, the 20th return TD of Hester’s career and more importantly, a new NFL record. Congratulations Hester on besting former Falcon Deion Sanders for most career return touchdowns. And in case you were wondering, yes, Hester did score that record-breaking return touchdown as he high-stepped into the endzone just like Prime Time did during his career.
Atlanta’s “fumbleitis” issues
Running backs Devonta Freeman, Antone Smith and tight end Levine Toilio were each responsible for a fumble in the game. Of course, when you score eight touchdowns in three quarters, a few turnovers aren’t the end of the world. This is just one of the few things the Falcons need to work on during their 10 days off before their Week 4 game.
Placekicker Matt Bryant gets a B
This is absolute nitpicking but Bryant finished the game making eight of nine kicks. He was perfect regarding extra points but missed his only field goal attempt. When you consider that the lone miss was a 59-yard field goal at the end of the first half, it shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing.
Now with a long week off before their Week 4 game in Minnesota, Atlanta gets time to rest up and prepare for the Vikings. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 4:25 pm ET. #RiseUp
For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.
Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.