By Andrew Kahn
56-14. You just don’t see scores like that in the NFL very often. Tampa Bay didn’t look like an NFL team last night, not scoring until the fourth quarter. It will be a long 10 days until the Bucs travel to Pittsburgh, followed by a trip to New Orleans, meaning the Bucs are very easily looking at another dismal start. For Atlanta, this was exactly the performance it needed, improving to 2-1 and absolutely dominating both sides of the ball.
Atlanta’s offseason acquisition of long-time Bear Devin Hester looks to be paying off. Hester set the career record for touchdown returns (punt, kickoff, fumble, and field goal returns) on Thursday, breaking Deion Sanders’ mark with his second-quarter score, the 20th of his career. He did it in style, mimicking Prime Time’s celebratory strut as he crossed the goal line. (Not only was Sanders in attendance as a media member, but he played five seasons in Atlanta.) Hester also took an end around for a 20-yard rushing score, the first of his career, and hugged an unsuspecting security guard after running through the end zone. In the first quarter, after a Tampa Bay player had recovered a fumble, Hester chased him down, forced another fumble, and recovered it. Quite the night at the office for one of the fastest, most elusive players in NFL history, a guy whose career looks revived on Atlanta’s artificial turf.
Matty Ice: Red hot
Matt Ryan set a Falcons franchise record for single-game completion percentage, connecting on 21 of 24 passes (87.5 percent) for 286 yards. He found Julio Jones for a 14-yard gain on the game’s first play and never cooled off, giving way to backup T.J. Yates midway through the third quarter. Nine different Falcons caught passes, though Roddy White was not one of them. He didn’t practice all week, but many thought he was being saved for game day. It sure didn’t matter tonight, but Atlanta needs someone else to step up to complement Jones if White misses significant time.
Roddy White wasn’t the only late scratch; Tampa running back Doug Martin was inactive as well. But Martin’s backup, Bobby Rainey, has looked like the better back at times, so Martin’s absence didn’t seem like a huge deal. And it probably wasn’t. Rainey ran 11 times for 41 yards (though he did fumble twice; see below), but Tampa had to go to the air early and often after falling behind so big so quickly. Starting quarterback Josh McCown injured what appeared to be his right thumb and left the game in the second quarter, giving way to last year’s starter, Mike Glennon. But it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is when the center is snapping the ball off his own butt, as Evan Dietrich-Smith did at one point last night. He also picked up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Not a strength either
The Bucs are dealing with injuries to key defensive players, but that’s no excuse for giving up eight touchdowns in three quarters. Atlanta ran when it needed to, and Ryan found open receivers all over the field. It’s hard to know where defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith goes from here.
This game was essentially over in the first quarter, and Tampa’s turnovers were a big reason. There was the aforementioned fumble after an interception (when the game was still 7-0), Josh McCown’s pick-six that made it 21-0, and Rainey’s fumble on the Bucs’ next possession. In the second half, Rainey fumbled again, as did another Buc, though by then the game was well out of hand. Atlanta finished with four turnovers, but they obviously didn’t slow them down.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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