Ryan, Hester help Falcons roll past Bucs


In the first two weeks of the season, the Falcons showed their fans two different teams. In the first week, the Falcons offense was on point and they were able to rally and defeat the New Orleans Saints in overtime. In the second game, the Falcons were flat and could never get anything going against the Cincinnati Bengals.

So which Falcons team was going to show up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome?

Well, it wasn’t the team that played in Cincinnati and it wasn’t the team that rallied back to win against New Orleans. The Falcons was able to hit all cylinders and dominated their NFC South rivals 56-14.

“We’re very pleased how we came off of a short week,” head coach Mike Smith said. “We wanted to be as fresh as we could possibly be. The guys responded extremely well in offense, defense and special teams.”

Smith was spot on about the Falcons being effective on offense, defense and special teams because all three groups contributed in the scoring. The offense scored all their points in the first three quarters and racked up 488 yards. After a rough go in Cincy, Matt Ryan bounced back in a huge way as he completed 21 of his 24 passes for 286 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Ryan finished with a rating of 155.9 and his completion percentage was 85.7, both are franchise records.

“There’s going be weeks where it’s tough sledding, especially on the road,” Ryan said. “But good teams respond and good teams come back and play well the following week. We got a long way to go to get to where we want to go, but this is a step in the right direction.”

The scoring started on the opening series when Ryan threw a 3-yard score to Harry Douglas. The Falcons tacked on seven more points later in the quarter when Ryan threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones to go up by 14. Jones finished with nine receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

The Falcons went up by 21 late in the first when Kemal Ishmael intercepted a Josh McCown pass and returned it 23-yards for the score.

The defense made another play when Paul Worrilow forced a Bobby Rainey fumble and Dwight Lowery recovered on the ensuing drive. That led to a Devin Hester 20-yard touchdown run to put the Falcons up 28-0 at the start of the second quarter.

“We know how poor we played,” Worrilow said talking about the defense’s performance in the first two games. “Just to prove to ourselves and go out there and put together a good game, that was important to us.”

The defense did not have another score in the game, But Hester was not done with his time in the end zone. Later in the second, Hester returned a Tampa Bay punt for a 56-yard touchdown. That score was the 20th touchdown return for Hester and he’s now the all-time leader surpassing Deion Sanders who was in attendance.

“He was just so happy,” Hester said when he talked to Sanders after the game. “He almost pulled a hamstring sprinting towards the end zone with me. I love that guy.”

The third quarter was the same story for the Falcons. Jones, Steven Jackson and Antone Smith scored for the Falcons in the quarter and it was 56-0 at the start of the fourth. Tampa did score twice in the fourth but the Bucs were going up against the second-string.

At this point of the season last year, the Falcons were 1-2 and would go on and lose two more before earning a win at home against Tampa. This time the Falcons are 2-1, 2-0 at home and more importantly 2-0 against NFC South opponents. It was a great win for the squad, but there is still a long road ahead.

“One of the keys to success in the National Football League is that you got to win at home and you can’t have back-to-back losses,” Smith said. “It’s very important for us to play much better on the road. We got to take this dome energy that we have and put it on the plane with us and make sure that wherever we go we have it.”

The Falcons will look to take the dome energy next Sunday Oct. 28 to Minnesota to face the Vikings. This will not be an indoor game because the Vikings will be playing at the TCF Bank Stadium which is home to the University of Minnesota football team. The Vikings will be playing there for the next two seasons until their new stadium is done being built.

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