Matt Ryan and Tevin Coleman shined in the season opener, but Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston-led offense was too much for the Falcons Defense to handle.
The Georgia Dome was packed with red jerseys as the passionate Atlanta fan base roared for the Falcons’ first game of the season. However, they would exit the dome in a defeated and deflated fashion as the Buccaneers triumphed 31-24 over the Falcons.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers struck first with a field goal in the first quarter. In the following Falcons drive, Matt Ryan found Sanu for a 59 yard pass down the right sideline. However, Atlanta was forced to settle for a field goal, tying the game, on their first red-zone possession. Trufant would prove his value two drives later, picking off a deflected pass and setting up the Falcons offense in scoring position. The Dirty Birds would cash in on this opportunity with a five-yard pass from Ryan to Sanu, taking a 10-3 lead.
In the second quarter, the Buccaneers would orchestrate a careful drive, working their way from their own 25 yard line all the way to the end zone. They scored with a short pass from Winston to Brandon Myers, and once again tied the game. Atlanta would jump back in front with a Matt Bryant field goal, thanks to a 47 yard reception by Tevin Coleman, a couple drives later with just under 2 minutes left in the half. However, Tampa Bay refused to accept the Atlanta lead. Winston led a perfect 2 minute drill to the endzone, with Winston and Vincent Jackson hooking up several times during the scoring drive. The half time score was 17-13 in favor of Tampa Bay.
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Tampa Bay continued to pound in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns off of explosive plays. The second touchdown in the third quarter, a 45 yard reception by Mike Evans, seemed to really silence the home crowd. The Falcons did not roll over after big jump however, as Matt Ryan would find Julio Jones for a touchdown and successfully complete a 2 point conversion at the end of the third, making the score 31-21.
The Falcons defense held strong, shutting out Tampa Bay in the 4th quarter. But the 31 points were too large to overcome. Atlanta was able to manage a field goal in the 4th, coming within 7 points of Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers defense stopped the falcons on their final drive. The game-clinching play was made by Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy, as he batted a 4th and 10 pass, ending the Falcons final drive at the line of scrimmage.
The most frustrating portion of the loss for the Falcons was penalties. Seven penalties for 74 yards counted against Atlanta. The Falcons defense had several chances to get off of the field, but often let penalties get the best of them, allowing Tampa Bay’s drives to continue. Also, corner back Robert Alford did not play well, getting burned several times, including a deep touchdown to Mike Evans. Perhaps if first round pick Keanu Neal played, the secondary would play better. Finally, the rushing attack was not up to par. Freeman was a Pro-Bowl running back last season and a dominating rushing attack is a staple of the Shanahan offense, but Freeman and Coleman combined for just 42 yards on 19 carries.
However, there are some positives to this frustrating loss. Matt Ryan erased all doubts for this upcoming season. He threw for 334 yards , 2 TDs, and completed 27 of 39 passes, just shy of a 70% completion rate. Coleman also showed his versatility and bid for the starting job, as the running back led the team in passing yards with 95 yards including his big 45 yard gain. Sanu also stuck it the two the doubters. The newly acquired free agent caught a touchdown and accounted for 80 passing yards, the bulk coming from his big 59 yard catch. On the defensive side of the ball, Desmond Trufant played well as always, locking down his man and snagging an interception. The young linebackers, Jones and Campbell, also showed their potential, landing a couple big hits and key stops, but still showed they have room for development and improvement.
So with the strong passing offense in mind and the defense’s ability to lock down in the fourth quarter, it’s easy to get optimistic about the next game. The Falcons just have to get in sync sooner and not let the game get out of hand like it did in the third quarter today.
Until next Sunday, Dirty Birds.