Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) catches a touchdown pass behind Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Johnthan Banks (27) during the second quarter at the Georgia Dome. (USA TODAY Sports: Dale Zanine)
Missing his two top wide receivers, Matt Ryan looked elsewhere and found a much-needed victory for the disappointing Atlanta Falcons.
Ryan completed 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards with three touchdowns to lead the Falcons to a 31-23 win over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Jacquizz Rodgers caught two touchdown passes from Ryan, and Harry Douglas stepped up into the role of the go-to receiver with a big performance.
“We needed it,” said Ryan of the win. “All week, I thought preparation was very, very good. Guys were locked in. I thought as a team we came out and played a very solid football game. We made some mistakes but overcame them and made enough plays to get it done.”
At this point, these two NFC South rivals have more in common than most would have believed before the season. After playing host to the NFC Championship Game last season, the Falcons (2-4) have been ravaged by injuries to key players. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones missed Sunday’s game. Veteran running back Steven Jackson, the team’s key offseason acquisition, has missed the majority of the last four games. The Falcons made due on Sunday, with Douglas and Rodgers taking advantage of their opportunities.
Douglas set a career-high in receiving yards with 149 and caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Ryan that put the Falcons up 24-7 with 5:40 left in the first half.
“Everybody’s role changes in the NFL. Harry’s role changed two weeks ago because of our situation at wide receiver,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He stepped up to the plate and did an extremely good job today. Harry is a very good wide receiver; he just hasn’t had an opportunity to be the number one receiver, and he was the number one receiver in the game today.”
Rodgers scored on a 19-yard swing pass from Ryan in the first half, and an 8-yard middle screen early in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 31-14.
“We wanted to come out here and get a win to start the streak that we’re trying to go on,” Douglas said. “When Julio went down and Roddy wasn’t going to play, I wanted the challenge. I’ve always been like that my whole life. This was huge, a great win. We’re going to try to feed off this.”
After back-to-back home losses, the Falcons needed a quick start to keep a disappointed fan base interested. They got it, when a blitzing William Moore sacked Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon and forced a fumble that was scooped up by Thomas DeCoud and returned 30 yards for a touchdown to put Atlanta up, 7-0, early in the first quarter.
“If you had a Falcons logo on your helmet you were expected to step up and make plays,” Smith said. “Whether a young guy, old guy, we all needed to do that, and I thought we did that.
“I felt we had a lot of positives in the game today in terms of coming off our bye week. We started fast with the strip fumble and the touchdown, which was a big play. We made a lot of corrections in the bye week. They didn’t all show up this week, but we are going to continue to work and take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - NOTES, QUOTES
—The Falcons miss running back Steven Jackson dearly. The veteran back, who was brought into bolster the Falcons’ ground game, has missed the majority of the last four games with a hamstring injury. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for only 30 yards rushing against the Buccaneers.
—Without his top two receivers and his starting running back, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan posted the best quarterback ratings of his career at 148.4. He completed 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against a Tampa Bay secondary that features Darrelle Revis and two stellar safeties.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It was great going against Revis and talking to him a little bit during the game. He’s a great corner. He’s still an outstanding player and, I think, the best corner in the NFL.” — Wide receiver Harry Douglas