Blowout and easy wins in the NFL also means a boring spectacle at one point for the fans and audience, and there was plenty of garbage time as the Atlanta Falcons beat up on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winning 56-14 against their division rivals with a huge game by Devin Hester and something of a bounce back performance for Matt Ryan.
There was nothing that functioned for the Bucs, missing four defensive starters, their leading running back and from the first half played without Josh McCown, replaced by the seemingly inept Mike Glennon. The duo combined to complete 22-of-36 passes for 153 yards. The Falcons got three sacks, their first of the season, and also forced five fumbles, recovering four of them. In general it was a turnover filled game, with the Falcons turning the ball over four times, three by a fumble.
One of the most bizarre moments we’ll probably see in this NFL season was Devin Hester forcing a fumble himself. The return man who continues to elevate his status towards legendary finished the game with a rushing touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown, but he also showed some great defense. After the Bucs stripped a ball away from a Falcons receiver, Hester himself got the ball back on the same play.
He scored his 20th career return touchdown, tying with Deion Sanders. He is the first player with a punt return touchdown, a rushing touchdown and a fumble recovery in the same game since Dave Meggett of the New York Giants in 1994. At moments it looked like the Hester show, who seems to be blossoming on his new team with an expanded role, but it was also about the pass rush, Matt Ryan rebounding from his week 2 performance and another big night for Julio Jones.
Ryan could almost do no wrong in his return to the Dome, finishing with 21-of-24 for 286 yards and three touchdowns. Everything he threw reached the right place. He was sacked once, but pressure, the little that he saw, didn’t really bother him. The Falcons were up 21-0 by the end of the first quarter thanks to a pick-six by Kemal Ishmael. The second quarter belonged to Hester, and the third was about making this into a record breaking humiliation.
The Falcons led 56-0 before the fourth quarter began. Only a 59-0 lead by the New England Patriots against the Tennessee Titans in 2009 is a bigger third-quarter shutout lead in the Super Bowl era. The Falcons finally had a good day on defense, holding the Buccaneers to just 217 yards while finishing with 488 themselves. Since 2009, the Bucs have been at the bottom of the NFL when it comes to almost every defensive aspect, a sharp contrast from being consistently excellent for most of the previous decade.
Once again, we don’t know who the real Falcons are. In the Georgia Dome, at least against two of their division rivals, the offense seems close to unstoppable, with Julio Jones having it easy on big plays to finish with nine receptions for 161 yards and a couple of touchdowns. However, for this season to be about putting behind their abysmal 2013 and getting back into the playoffs, some of this has to carry over when they play away from home.
For the Buccaneers, there’s not a single positive. Not even the two touchdowns late in the game or Mike Glennon looking sorta good when the game felt more like a preseason affair during the second half. Lovie Smith looked like a welcome change after the less than ideal Greg Schiano period, but it’s going to take a lot more time and more changes in personnel before the Buccaneers are a valid team of the NFC South again.